Below you will find information on Isis Wings used in Belly Dance.
Isis Wings are not a traditional prop in Middle Eastern dances and are still uncommon among dancers in the Middle East. They do however have a history of use that goes back about as far as modern Raqs Sharqi. Visual performance artists have manipulated their skirts and shawls to a degree for centuries but in the late 1800s a pioneering performer named Loie Fuller took it to a whole new level. She had already been doing skirt
dancing on the burlesque circuit for several years when she began
experimenting with the effects of gas lighting and creating shapes
and patterns with her skirt to create an interesting visual message. She
created her own special skirt with pockets that she strategically placed
rods into. She could then manipulate the fabric in a very unique way
effectively creating the forerunner of modern Isis Wings. Her dancing
was featured at several World's Fairs and she performed it in a variety
of locales from Paris to the US. Her dance style became popularly
known as Serpentine Dance and eventually had a series of imitators.
Serpentine Dance had a huge impact on Modern Dance but wasn't
common in Belly Dance until much later. Although they are
sometimes credited to a dancer named Ayshe (hence the less common
name "wings of Ayshe") they were in use by dancers prior to that time.
Some early versions were essentially a very full cape without pleats or
sticks which have been reportedly used in the 1960s by at least one
dancer. Early versions with pleats were definitely on the scene being
used by dancers like Helene Erikson in the 1970s. Similar wings have
been in use in Las Vegas shows and Caribbean Carnival performances for years as well.
Eventually in 1991, Ayshe, who had wings from previous dance experiences decided to bring
them along on a Middle Eastern Dance performance to make a dramatic entrance. Her use of
them initiated the popularity rise of Isis Wings. The name "Isis Wings" was given because so
many dancers used them to depict the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis in Pharonic and fusion
The actual design of modern Isis Wings is fairly standard. They are large circular veils with
many pleats. They are usually made out of Tissue Lame or Organza but can and are made from
other fabrics as well. Thee generally have a long pocket on the ends through which a wooden
dowel or plastic rod is inserted. Some have loops to put your finger trough instead of or in
addition to the rod. They may also attach to a collar around a dancers neck. The wings are
attached to the back of the collar. Typically they will have a traditional circular shape (figure
a.) but they are sometimes made in a "sparrow tail" (figure b.) or "butterfly" (figure c.) shape.
Although older styles sometimes were a cape which was one piece many modern wings are
actually spilt up the middle making two wings (figure d.). The circular shape is still the most
common whether one or two pieces but the other shapes are usually only seen on newer two
piece wings (shown as on piece in the figures just to show the general shape).
Dancing with wings is very similar to dancing with a veil or more often double veil because it's split creating the same effect as two separate veils. However being connected to a collar around the neck means that some of the usual veil tricks involving twirling and swirling the veil all the way around the body become virtually impossible. Wings create the most interest when you spin around and vary the level and angle of each wing. Wings also use similar movements as skirt dancing which feature spinning, flipping, and butterfly type back and forth fluttering. Wings are larger than a veil and controlled differently than a skirt. Most are controlled by grasping sticks at the end. Creating fluttering movements is done by a very small forward and back vibration at the wrist. Moving the wings feels almost like directing an orchestra and learning to have elegant hands while holding the rods takes some practice. Large sweeping movements must be used to get enough air under the fabric to create the trademark patterns used with wings. Some modern interpretations with wings can be seen below: