Finger Cymbals in Oriental Dance

I’m a dance teacher on a mission... My goal: to show as many student of Oriental dance how much fun it is to play finger cymbals (also called zills)!

Unfortunately, dancing with cymbals has never been very popular in Switzerland. It’s something that the few dancers who can do it well are admired for, but many other dancers don’t think they can manage.


Part of the problem are the dance teachers. If they can’t play cymbals themselves, they say it’s "complicated, difficult, only for advanced dancer" and therefore scare away students even if they are interested.
Those teachers who can play them often wait too long to start teaching them to their new students. Actually it’s more difficult to add cymbals to the dance when movement patterns are already set. In my opinion Oriental dancers should learn dancing with cymbals as early as possible to that they get used to dancing while rhythmically moving their fingers at the same time.

How good somebody is at playing cymbals is independent of their dance talent and experience. Basically you could simply walk around and practice cymbal patterns. Your repertoire of dance moves and your cymbal skills can develop together.


Fortunately my first teacher Layali Romer invited the (then very famous) German dancer Nahema for several cymbal workshops in her studio. Nahema not only taught very good cymbal classes, she also published a book with different patterns and techniques which I still own.
Nahema taught me the creative use of cymbals in dance and that you can never repeat too much when you are learning to play them...

After this I had a long cymbal break, but when I started Tribal Style Bellydance, me and my group danced with cymbals right from the start and this regular training gave me routine and confidence with my cymbals. In this video clip you can see our group dancing and playing cymbals.

I also know from my own experience how difficult it is to play cymbals along with dance movements that one is already very used to. I found it out the hard way when I tried to add cymbals to improvised Raqs Sharqi. I was so concentrated on my hands that my dancing and expression suffered... But the good news with cymbals is that practice really helps!


I trained intensively for a cymbal choroegraphy to be performed at the Oriwiss 2008 gala show – but I forgot my CD at home... So I was forced to give my public cymbal improvisation debut in front of a big audience on a show stage. Thanks to the month long practice it actually worked out quite well as you can see in this video.


This experience only made my cymbal hunger greater. Because the good thing about playing cymbals is that although it requires a lot of practice, you can really see the results. And the better you are at playing cymbals, the more fun it is!

I have now been teaching cymbal workshops for a few years. While I only taught very small classes in the beginning and hardly earned anything out of it, there are more interested students now. Which shows me that I am on the right way – and I won’t give up!


So here are a few arguments for cymbals...

And here some arguments against cymbals and what I have to say about them...

Cymbals are only for advanced dancers and very difficult.
Everything you do for the first time is hard. But learning to play cymbals is relatively easy, all you need is a bit of discipline. And even advanced dancers had to start some day! The sooner you start, the better. How many dancers wish: „If only I had started learning cymbals earlier!“

I don’t know where I can learn to play cymbals
The easiest way is of course to learn with a teacher who can give you instant feedback and tips. Be it in your weekly classes or in workshops (like mine!). Ask your teacher if she plays cymbals herself or if she can recommend somebody.

Then there are also various instructional videos and CDs for cymbals, see my link list below.

I don’t know which cymbals I should buy.
Interestingly many of us are ready to spend a lot of money on pretty hip scarved and costumes but get stingy when it comes to buy cymbals...
Sorry my dears, but the 10 $ basar cymbals will not make you happy! Often they only have one hole for the rubber band ad therefore don’t sit properly on your finger. And we won’t even go into the ear shattering sound they make!
Good cymbals don’t cost more than a coin scarf but often last longer! They should have a long ringing, pure sound and all four cymbals should be the same tone.
I recommend buying middle sized cymbals from Saroyan or Turquoise (see links below). Those have a good sound and material.


I don’t know what to practice.
Simple patterns are totally sufficient to train your hands.
For example: right-left-right-left / R-L-R-L or R-R-L-L
Slowly increase the tempo. It doesn’t matter what music you use, you can simply put on the radio and play your cymbals to whatever song that is playing. Important: ALWAYS practice with music and always keep on moving – do simple dance movements and steps, or walk in a circle, in the rhythm of course!
And be careful to have good arm posture from the beginng, no „chicken wings“ while playing cymbals!

I can’t practice at home because my cat / my husband / my children can’t stand the noise
My answer: Cymbal mufflers! You can simply pull small socks over the cymbals (one per hand is enough). If you like it more stylish, you can crochet mufflers.


I can’t practice because I haven’t got the time
Even 10 minutes a day are enough – a little is better than nothing. Your brain and hands should get used to moving your fingers to the rhythm.

Mastering cymbals is a lot of work
Yes, unfortunately there is no magic potion that will make you a cymbal goddess from one day to the other. But if you stick with it you will soon see the first results! Practice, practice, practice...

Now reward yourself with some pretty zill bags!



Instructional DVDs

Reviews of several cymbal videos
A review of Bellydance with Zills
A review of Killer Ziller
A review of Finger Cymbals with Ansuya

Instructional CDs

Zill Speak / Sagat Speak
Playing Finger Cymbals with Jamila
Zills on Fire

Where to buy cymbals


Cymbal-workshops with MEISSOUN: next dates

And when you grow up, you might one day play cymbals like Tülay or Kawakib...

More inspiring videos:

Shabnam and Ooh La la,
Shabnam and Mandanah
Groove Merchant Drum and Dance Ensemble