A couple of years ago, I read an article that compared and contrasted classic Egyptian set and classic American Oriental set. The article mentioned that both sets were 45 to 60 minutes long, but the similarity ended there. One thing that caught my attention was that a dancer in a classic Egyptian set might use his/her props in different ways from a dancer in classic American Oriental set.
Egyptian-style dancer uses different veil - heavier, more opaque, smaller, with trimmed edges. The dancer comes in with the veil covering his/her body, and after about 2 eight counts, sheds the veil and starts dancing (Sarah Skinner, in her Bellydance with Veil DVD by WorldDanceNewYork, also confirms this information). American Oriental dancer comes in with a veil wrapped around the neck and waist and usually doesn't unwrap it until the second or third song and even dances with the veil for one whole song.
Ms. Christine Yaven from Bellydance Jakarta said that Egyptian dancers weren't so big with playing zills. It wasn't that they were unable to play finger cymbals, it was more because the dancers wanted to show that they could afford to pay the whole orchestra - including zill players. So, instead of playing the zills, they would just focus on dancing. Meanwhile, zills for American Oriental dancers are like rice for Asians (if you think that's a stereotype, that's what I'm aiming for). For all intents and purposes, zills do catch attention and bring texture to the music, even if it's a canned one.
I think I've written somewhere in the blog that I asked Ms. Nericcio if an ATS troupe could call themselves ATS if they weren't dancing with zills, and she said that zills were mandatory for all ATS troupes. In last year's Devotion Show, there was one number when Sensei Kae and Kristine Adams danced without zills, but it was because the song was so fast that they just forwent the idea of dancing with cymbals. It was also understandable because they came in just to dance to that one song, whereas when FCBD dances to a set, they keep their zills on from beginning to the end, even when they're not using them during slow songs.
American Oriental dancers use more props (veil, zills, tray, sword, pot, Isis Wings, skirt) and actually incorporate those props in the performance because the dancers need to grab the audience's attention and maintain it. The US audience, thanks to MTV, has shorter attention span and can get bored in 5 minutes, let alone an hour. The Egyptian audience is somehow more resistant to boredom. Although I'm not really sure if it's still like this, since MTV (and stupidity) seems to be prevalent everywhere.
Did you know that despite the name, Isis Wings are actually an American invention? Loie Fuller was the first person to ever dance with "Isis Wings" in her "Danse Serpentine" number. Not sure why she called the performance that way since she looks more like a fluttering butterfly than a snake.
As for me, I'm a sucker for props. I love dancing with veils, zills, sword, and Isis Wings. I don't know if I'm still going to use veils and Isis Wings now that I'm dancing ATS almost full time. However, there's one prop that I don't think I'll ever use: Snake.
It's not that I'm scared of snakes. I love animals, and although I don't think I want to handle reptiles (or insects, for that matter), I still don't believe animals should be used for entertainment. That's not the only objection I have, though. I really, really don't want to buy poor little rodents to feed the snakes. The thought of that really makes me sick. However, seeing the Serpentessa video really made me aware that dancing with snakes is not an easy feat.