Confessions of a Zill Snob


I have a shameful bellydance secret.

I hate zills.


I know a lot of people are going to gasp and be offended by this. I’m going to post it anyways. Those of you who are real friends and shimmy sisters won’t hate me for my opinion, or take offense. It takes many to make the world go round, and there’s lots of people who love zills, so keep rockin’ them. This is just MY opinion.

I’m hoping to open people’s eyes a little bit about the Zilling problems in dance. There are many.,,and to those few very trusted dancers I’ve expressed my Zill-pinion too, they’ve agreed with me about these problems. I’m happy to know I’m not the only dancer in the world who dislikes zills…I’ve even talked to a few dancers who use them only because their restaurant managers wanted them to.

So here we go, the reasons I hate zills.

1. They are LOUD and OBNOXIOUS.

Even more so when they’re being played by 20 ATS dancers. I mean, ow. Yes, I’m impressed you’re all keeping RLR-LRL rhythm while moving, it’s a very cool skill that I don’t posses myself…but OW. I have sensitive ears, I don’t like high pitched noises or deep bass tones, and the ringing of zills in groups of more than about 3 just kills me.

At festivals, it’s pretty annoying when you’re watching another act perform and suddenly you hear zills ringing out from clear across the enter event. This has happened more than once. I understand the dance troupes aren’t trying to be distracting, but lets face facts. It’s VERY distracting, and sort of rude to the other performers. People can’t help but go “What’s that?” And yes, that’s the point, it draws attention, but it’s pretty obnoxious to others performing.

2. No one remembers their mufflers.

Whomever invets Zill-muffs should get a metal. I swear. The problem is the majority of people never remember them, or don’t know about them at all.

What are Zill Muffs? These… (I hope this random person on etsy enjoys the random plug!)

Zill muffs muffle the sound of your zills are are usually crocheted but can often just be fabric baggies. Either way, they’re ideal for studying zilling. I believe anyone who takes zill workshops should have them…even more so in a DANCE ZILL workshop where you will be moving and zilling. This is where I believe they’re needed most. It’s impossible to hear cues from a teacher over all that damn ringing and clanking…and lets face it, nearly NO ONE learning new combos is getting that rhythm right. It ends up being a ton of noise.

3. They make learning impossible.

Not only can you never hear the instructor, but no one ever stops clanking and chiming them.

I can’t tell you how obnoxious this is. STOP MOVING YOUR HANDS. Seriously. No need for that. I understand you like your new toy, but show some restraint please, others are trying to listen.

I AM BEGGING ZILL TEACHERS…please…PLEASE start telling people to knock off the in-between zilling while you’re talking. It’s RUDE. You have the right as the teacher to ask people to stop while you’re speaking, don’t let them walk all over you like that, you’re not being mean in asking them to quiet their fingers.

4. Too many people don’t know what to do with them.

I see so many dancers who get zills and go “WOOO!!!! LRLRLRLRLRLRLRLRLRLRLRLRLRLRLRLRLR” and nothing else. There’s a whole world of wonderful rhythms out there to explore…and guess what!! You can play along with drummers using those rhythms! WHO KNEW?!?!?*

*Disclaimer, some people know. Mostly musicians, but some dancers I have found who are “of a certain age” or what I like to call “vintage” also know this.

My point is, not enough people want to spend time learning to zill along with middle eastern rhythms. Not enough dancers want to learn how to play along with a song rather than just act as an accent…which brings me to my next point.

Zills should accompany music, not distract from it…which brings me to…

5. Random Zilling.

I. Hate. This. Most. Of. All.

I’m sure this is where I’m going to make people the most angry…mostly because every dancer that’s ever attempted to perform with zills has more than likely started right here. The problem is when people never move on from this.

Picture this… the music plays. It’s a drum solo…(or the other big offender is the modern drum/vocal Arabic/Moroccan/Egyptian song, which I hate worse btw. The random is super noticeable in modern music.). The dancer comes out, zills strapped to fingers…and she dances…and dances…and dances…and she’s still not zilling…then suddenly…Cling cling. Cling. Cling cling…and dances some more. Cling cling cling. Dances some more…cling. Does a spin…ching ching…spins the other way…ching ching. Back to no zilling. CHING.

Zilling with no rhyme or reason makes me more annoyed than 50 ATS dancers at a festival any day. It’s completely unprofessional. It does nothing for your performance except show you have no ear for music. As a dancer you don’t want that. Either learn to zill rhythms or just put them down.

I’m going to be a bitch here and say this… If you’re a random ziller, you’re annoying more people than you think. They just won’t admit it.

6. Clanking.

I know, I know, some cultures it’s actually correct to clap or clunk your zills. Good for you, I don’t care for the clank/clack/clunk sound myself. I feel it’s like a dead note…like the poor little note curled up and died a painful death under someone’s foot. Much like a spider.

There are exceptions to my clanking reasoning, sometimes they do have a place in music.

7. Instructors who tell me my holding technique is wrong.

This annoys me, but I smile and deal with it anyways because it’s their personal technique. Not mine.

The simple fact is, I was taught to play zills originally by a musician, not a dancer. The way I hold my zills is to achieve optimal ‘Ching’ and ‘Ring’ from them. It gives for a more clear note.

I should also mention here, I only ever take Zill-dance workshops when they’re a packaged deal somewhere…because I don’t intend to actually ever play them in a performance, save for any ATS I may study in the future…in which case…I’ll have mufflers.

I think I’ve covered my personal Seven Sins of Zilling.

Now, I do own Zills myself. Two pair. One small and one “dinner plate” sized for drum circles.

I like going o drum circles with my zills, I feel like they make a nice accent, and although I couldn’t rattle off every name of every middle eastern drum rhythm, I can play along with every single one. I vastly enjoy sitting around and zilling with the band much more than zilling on my feet dancing.

Kudos to all those dancers who’s zilling has never made me angry. There are a handful of you that I do admire for your skills and talents. I know you’ve studied hard, and have come a long way from your early random zill days. The biggest part of any talent is learning and growing from your mistakes, thank you for not being forever stuck in the random zill stage.

Alright, rant over. I somehow feel better getting that off my chest! It’s been sitting there for years!


6 responses »

  1. Well said! I’m not a huge fan either. I’ve been criticized and told I am not a “complete” dancer until I play them (whatever that means). But I think that encourages dancers who do not have the skill to play them anyway…and play them badly. And no matter how much I practice, I will never play them well enough to dance with. They would either be a distraction or an afterthought and I refuse to do that! That said, I also own two pair. And a friend of mine made mutes for me as a gift and I use them. But I haven’t picked them up in ages because they are just not a priority for me. My cane and Isis wings on the other hand…. :)

    • I’m so glad I’m not the only dancer out there who feels this way and isn’t afraid to say it.

      If anyone tells me I’m not a complete dancer until I learn Zills, I’ll tell them they’re not a complete dancer until they learn hooping, fire, poi, tribal, flamenco, cabaret and whatever else they don’t already do.

  2. I adore zills, finger cymbals, Zagat..whatever you want to call them…when they are played WELL. But, oh Nadeau! I do also agree with much of what you posted here! Random zilling?! YESSSS!!! (I mean….Noooooooooo!!!!!)

  3. I find it weird reading this from the UK, where barely anyone plays zills at all, let alone enough to make anyone hate them. It sounds like you’ve been over-exposed to terrible zilling! People moan about the art dying out here, but the other side of the coin is that we don’t have to put up with constant bad/inappropriate/rude zill abuse…

    I do have some serious bugbears with them myself though – dancers who think that just playing RLR RLR RLR RLR for a whole song is a good idea (ATS troupes, I’m looking at you…), and think that that’s a skill other dancers should be impressed by. Or worst of all, people who zill off-time…

    Having said all that, I love the things, and will be teaching them to my improvers class next term. You definitely need a strict teacher who can lay down the law about only playing when asked to, or it becomes a horrible chaotic clanging mess. I also prefer to use a variety of sounds, not just ringing – claps, rings, clicks and trills (not sure what the proper word for this is, where you hold them close together and shake your hand so it sounds like a bell ringing) to accent different parts of the rhythm, and to also play them along with the melodic line in the music. It’s a good ‘party piece’ in my area to play them to a complex piece of music, because most people have never seen zilling beyond RLR RLR RLR before and are super impressed if you do anything more interesting reasonably competently ;)

    • See, I don’t -hate- hate them. I just had the overly used badly played style!

      There are zill players out there who are amazing, and I highly respect them and others who can pass on the art.

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