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Dancing with Fire Safely and Effectively

"One of the most spectacular baladi props is the shamadan or candelabra. The dancer wears the heavy brass head piece with up to two dozen lit candles as she performs shimmies and torso undulations. The flickering flames are believed to ward off evil spirits and the evil eye, hence the shamadan is a popular baladi tradition at weddings and festivals." -- Keti Sharif, Bellydance.

Candle dancing is not as flamoyant as dancing with a shamadan, but it is great entertainment, since it too relies on the dancer's skill in keeping objects holding open flames balanced on her head. Since the candles can be removed from the head and incorporated into arm movements, it has the added advantage of being able to highlight arm and torso movements.


Anna Marie Cancelli:
  • The legendary Mahmoud Reda holds the opinion that Raks Al Shamadan originated via the Turkish royal court dancers of the Ottoman Empire.
  • Accounts from a variety of Oriental dance scholars mention that two of the first performers recognized for using illuminated headdresses were Egyptian dancers Zouba el Kloubatiyya and Shafika el Koptiyya, celebrated Mohammad Ali Street dancers.
  • 1900: Andrea Deagon notes that there is photographic evidence of a dancer donning a candelabra on her head at the 1900 Paris World's Fair... and the candelabra is somewhat similar to what we currently know as the Shamadan.
  • 1920s: Badia Masabni showcases Raks Al Shamadan in her Cairo nightclub during the late 1920s.
  • 1962: Jodette claims to be the first to perform Shamadan in the US.
  • 1995; First American tour of Nadia Hamdi, arguably the most famous shamadan expert of modern times; she incorporated a number of impressive athletic tricks such as splits, rolls and zill playing into her performance..

Morocco: Raqs al Shemadan... [started] when a professional performer wanted to do something different in the wedding zeffa (procession) for which she was hired, so she danced with a large, lit klop (an oil lamp) on her head. As a result, she became known as Zouba el Kloptiyya: 'Zouba, the lantern lady.' Then Shafiqa Al-Qibtiyaa (Shafika el Koptiyya) (Shafika, the Copt) decided to dance with a lit candelabrum on her head.



  • (Shifika the Copt) is said to be the first noted Egyptian dancer to dance with a shamadan (candelambra) on her head.


From Princess FarHana's blog post on Shamadan:

  • The crown of the shamadan should be snug and rest just above the temples. No wobbling!
  • Experiment with the length of your candles to get the best look with the most stability.
  • Never leave one in your car or trunk for even a short amount of time. The candles WILL melt.
  • Transport a shamadan on its side wrapped in a towel or strapped in with a seat belt. [Note - remember to protect seat from rubbing against waxy surface!]
  • Clean out dripcups after every use to avoid wax buildup which may then melt onto your head.
  • A hair dryer set on high can be used to soften wax for removal.

From Anna Cancelli's article in 2011 Zaghareet:

  • The Shamadan is heavy, and a challenging prop to work with. Techique, isolation, precision, and stamina are required.
  • The shamadan needs to fit securely and comfortably. Use padding, foam or leather on the inside cap to keep the headpiece secure.
  • Warm up thoroughly before performing, paying attention to neck, back and upper arms and shoulders.
  • Do not do floorwork unless you are exceedingly skilled in floor work with exceptional upper arm and thigh strength.
  • Examine the dance area before the performance. Locate fire extinguishers, light fixtures, decorations, and ceiling fans and other sources of blowing air that might put candles out or blow wax on skin and audience.
  • No-drip candles are a good investment. Use new ones each time because new candles drip less.
  • If live fire is inappropriate. use battery-operated candles.
  • Be prepared for hot wax drips. If you flinch, your Shamadan may topple off your head. If the Shamadan feels unsteady while you dance, slow down and stand still. The audience will enjoy a good look.

Moleskin glued inside the crown can be an excellent padding substitute inside the crown, as is sponge rubber.



Zahraa posting on the website:

  • Serena was known as the dancer with candles. Years ago I thought she picked up the dance in the Greek night clubs she performed in. Yet, recently I asked Rip (her husband) how Serena came to dance with candles. He told me that when they were young they saw a Filipino dancer perform with candles in his hands and balance them on his feet. Rip said to Serena "why don't you try that?" Hence, she became famous for her beautiful candle dance where she would flutter them on her belly.
  • I am a Greek folk dancer (and belly dancer) and know that candle dancing is native to Metalini Greece (bordering on Asia Minor--Turkey). This dance is a traditional folk dance performed with candles in ones hands to a Sirto rhythm. The name of the dance means "fire" in Greek. Steps are simple consisting of a step-back crossing step in a triplet pattern. Moreover, the dancer will turn with this step. Candles are held and spiraled in a circular manner. Also they are brought into the dancer's chest and out to the audience. Sometimes the dancer twists the candles in a figure eight over the head and down to the body.


  • A good short tutorial by Ruric-Amari.
  • From Atlanta Belly Dance: "Candle dancing is native to Metalini Greece. This dance is a traditional folk dance performed with candles in ones hands to a Sirto rhythm. The name of the dance means "fire" in Greek. Steps are simple consisting of a step-back crossing step in a triplet pattern. Moreover, the dancer will turn with this step. Candles are held and spiraled in a circular manner. Also they are brought into the dancer's chest and out to the audience. Sometimes the dancer twists the candles in a figure eight over the head and down to the body."


  • If you are doing a candle dance, your container needs to be heat proof and you need to be able to hold and control it without burning your fingers. A sherbert glass known as Big Top Gothic Peanut Butter Glass was produced in the 1950s by Hazel Atlas to hold peanut butter; the pretty sherbert glass was the incentive to buy. Seems remarkably heat-resistant, probably because processing the peanut butter would involve heat.
  • Avoid delicate / fragile glass holders. If you choose brandy glasses, buy heavy duty glass, not fine crystal that might shatter if dropped or heated.
  • AtlantaBellyDance doesn't use wax, because it doesn't always stay lit. They use cotton balls or cut-to-size feminine hygiene products soaked in parafin/candle oil instead. Warning: this can produce a startlingly LARGE flame! Try at your own risk, and make sure you are using a container that can control the flame and heat!
  • If you plan on using several different heights of candle holders, buy several sizes of candles. The flame should always stay within the holder, not above it.

Notes from Meleea:

  • Choose a holder that feels comfortable and secure in your hand. Projections or stems (brandy glass) will give you a secure grip.
  • Give it a trial of 8 minutes to see if it is too heavy to dance with.
  • Translucence is important. Glass is usually translucent. If metal, the candle cup should have piercings so flames can be seen through them.
  • The cup holder should have enough depth to protect the flame from drafts, wind and air conditioners. This depth will also protect you and your costume from melted wax and flame.
  • Set the candle securely into the holder by dripping some liquid wax into it, then set canlde into the melted wax.


Athena teaches candle tray balancing. Her advice is to look for a HEAVIER, well balanced tray and to secure the candles to it with hot wax drips. Practice with paper cups half-filled with water so that there are some consequences to mistakes but none that involve hot spilled wax.

Some good advice for candle tray dancing is found at Belly Dance Forums.


Thank you to Lara Lotze of the Biz of Bellydance FaceBook group for the info on beeswax candles.

  • White or off-white candles go with all color costumes.
  • Beeswax candles burn brightly and are relatively dripless, especially when kept out of drafts.
  • Beeswax candles are made as solid candles or rolled wax comb. The wax comb kind tend to be more dripless than the solid, since the wax melting at the top flows down the middle of the candle instead of the outside.
  • Rolled wax comb candles can be trimmed to fit with a hot knife.
  • Sources for bees-wax candles: Candle Bee Farm.
  • Buy a couple of several types of candles and try them out, both in and out of the holders. Check for length of time they stay lit and soot produced as they burn. When you find a brand you like, stock up.

STAY out of JAIL and OUT of the HOSPITAL

  • Practice first, without lighting the candles.
  • Think about the costume. Avoid loose sleeves, loose hair, costume fringe that may interfere with or pass through the fire.
  • Think about the venue: look around for curtains and draperies that might cause problems.
  • Dancing with candles can be messy, expensive and even illegal if it violates Fire Marshal or insurance regulations. Know the rules for your venues, and use LED candles if necessary! Some advice from professional dancers on Facebook about using battery-operated LED candles:
    • LED lights are good substitutes for candles where fire or insurance regulations forbid open flames, or where drafts or air conditioning interfere with the flame. They can be attached with melted wax or two-sided tape.
    • Sources for LED lights: craft stores like JoAnn or Michaels, wedding or church supply stores.
    • Try 6-inch LED taper candles that flicker like flame. The Smart Candle brand is recommended. Use tin foil wrapped around base to make them fit if necessary.
    • Use honeycomb beeswax sheets to make them look more authentic (wrapped them highter than the fake wick and melted them down a bit). The extra wax works perfectly to fit the candles securely in the shemadan.


  1. CANDLEWAX and COSTUMES do not mix. The nature of wax: it melts. The warmer the temperature, the better it spreads and the greater the area it covers. It can spread from one costume to another. Removing it from silk is problematic, requiring chemicals and often a subsequent redye of the fabric.
  2. COSTUME PROTECTION: Short protective over-skirts. Shrugs on shoulders and arms. A non-slippery scarf around the head. Spilled wax will need to be scraped from these after every use, and they will need to be stored separately (like candles) if they are to be useful for more than a couple of performances.
  3. STORAGE: Do not store candles underneath hanging costumes where any part of the costume brushes against the candle. You do not want even the thinnest film of wax on costumes
  4. TRANSPORT: Do not carry candles with your costumes. Do NOT stuff them in your costume bag. The heat in a sun-warmed car or trunk is enough to melt the wax. Do not count on a zip-lock bag to protect costumes from candles: the seal is not always reliable. Do not count on a candle being cool, or even cold: it may not melt on your costumes but a chip might flake off into your bag, onto a costume, melt there, come in contact with an other costumer, etc.. The only container that I would use to hold candles inside a costume bag is unbreakable plastic with a tight screw top, and even then I would be hesitant because of the tendency for dancers to leave bags in cars while they recover from a gig. The wax may not get out of the container, but the wax may get out of the candle holder and harden in an unusable way.
  5. USING: Candle wax spills. That is a fact of life. If you refill your own candle holders use a very hard wax with a higher-melting point PLUS add chemicals that make the wax even harder. Tea lights are NOT made of hard wax (which is more expensive), so be aware of the tradeoff if you choose to use tea lights.


There once was a damsel Shafiqa
Who wanted to be Cairo's diva.
She lied about church
And left hubby in the lurch
Because dancing at zeffas intrigued her.
  • Anna Maria Cancelli, Play with Dangerous Toys, Part 5: Shine on Shamadan, Zaghareet, 2010.
  • Morocco, You Asked Aunt Rocky, RDI Publications, 2011.


A lot of candle dancing is folkloric, or influenced by folk dance.

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