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Zills and Language, What do they have in common?

by Suli Adams Zills and language have much in common. They have both been used since ancient

times as expressions of emotions, culture and of ourselves. How we use them is an

expression of our personality, of what our circumstances and emotions are at the time. In

love? In annoyance? In anger? In anxiety? How we play zills, how we dance and how

we use language will express how we feel at that moment in time.


There is a drive amongst bellydancers today to be authentic to the culture in their dance

form. Many questions arise about zills, such as do they play zills in Egypt or is it mostly

in western countries? In tribal and fusion dance forms mostly? Are zills played inTurkey,

Lebanon, Syria,Greece, Spain or Morocco? In Egypt are zills to be played mostly by

musicians? Should dancers play zills or does it interfere with the musicians? Do

musicians play zills when a dancer plays zills? How should dancers play zills, to the

rhythms or as accents? What of zills and musicality or acapella? Is playing zills an

expression of an evolution in todays dance form versus how it was played and danced to

in ancient times? Where can dancers find resources with credible information to answer

such questions?


Zills can be played loud or soft, fast or slow, have moments of silence or not. These are

ways to create moments of expression, emotion or anticipation. Much like language,

volume and speed and moments of silence can express anger, frustration, love, anxiety,

anticipation, excitement and other emotions. How do individuals with hearing

impairments translate these emotions? Can lip reading convey the intensity of emotion?

How challenging it must be for new comers trying to learn a language and filter out

cultural ways of expression versus expressing emotions. What of the LGBT2+

communities, how difficult it must be to communicate and express their desires and

needs, and what courage it must take to express their true selves and emotions.

In much the same way, new comers are challenged in trying to fit into a new culture.

They often compromise their birth language and culture, try to loose their accents and

ways to “fit in”. Often this creates tension in family relationships and all too often this

results in regret, once they realize that they can no longer speak or understand their

elders. As we age, we are drawn back to our roots and unfortunately for many new

comers, their language and culture has been compromised and devalued to “fit in” to the

new culture, and it is very difficult to bridge that gap. There is a loss of self when one

looses their culture and language and takes much effort to learn how to unsilence that

self. Parents sometimes will shelter children from cultural ways and language to save

them from doubts, anxieties and insecurities that they themselves experienced. In the

hopes, that this will allow their children to live a more secure and carefree life in their

home, but most of all to experience freedom and acceptance in their home. How can

you regain family traditions, stories and history when you cannot communicate with the

elders or when they are no longer available?

Many new zill players are very conscious of themselves, they are concerned about

playing the right rhythm, playing it correctly, with the right timing and coordinated with the

dance move. Similarly newcomers have anxieties with language. As an example some

English speakers in Quebec will not go to French speaking areas or events due to

anxiety over speaking improperly, not having proper vocabulary or pronunciation and

being judged.


Zills and Language are not only a way of communicating but also of culture, music,

song, dance, metaphors and tradition. They form an identity that must not to be lost

over time for politics or societal reasons, but should be maintained, treasured and

honoured, once lost it is very difficult to regain. An example of such a great loss is sadly

apparent in those that were uprooted from Africa, and the descendants know not the

origin of their country, their roots and therefore have lost their language, culture, music,

song, dance, metaphors and traditions, resulting in a loss of self and negotiating an

identity. It is necessary for language to evolve and adapt to current times, for example

adding new vocabulary to include our technological and digital development. Adding

new repertoire to playing zills such as acapella, is an evolution towards current times

that adds interest, builds skill and refreshes an ancient art form. However, we must not

loose sight of its history, origins and culture, but honour and maintain the ancient art

form harmoniously with the evolution of this skill over various time periods, cultures and

into the current and future times. This enables us to honour and appreciate the

evolution in the art of playing zills and communicating with language skills. In closing, let us enjoy and build zill skills by playing acapella, musicality, honor the

traditional ways and yet explore new ways to appreciate this art form. Similarly, let us be

more compassionate to those trying to “Fit In” to their new reality. If we are interested in

knowing and learning about their language, traditions and culture, perhaps maintaining

their roots and not loosing their identity will be easier.

Suli Adams lives in Pembroke, Canada and loves bellydance. She is on the Pembroke Diversity Advisory Commitee. She studies with Aziza of Montreal, writes and dances as much as she can. Most notably she has been recently published in I Will Dance 'til a Hundred and One!: Communal Wisdom on Dancing as We Age: Turner LCSW, Janine: 9781977583574: Amazon.com:

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