"The scene was truly beautiful and poetic. The uncertain, flickering light, glancing fitfully upon the graceful, swaying crowd, the starry, deep-blue vault above the tufts of palm and nin that waved at our feet, shaking out their intoxicating scents on the clear mountain air that came to us laden with the keen odours of the jungle;
In such a setting cymbals and cymbal dancing had a true place.
Cymbals were not always made of bronze, brass, or copper, as we know them to-day. Among savage races they were often composed of flattened earth, like a large plate, shaped irregularly. Irregularity of shape was a marked feature of cymbals of the older type. In Greece, Egypt, and India cymbals made of metal or stone were used both for music and weapons of defence or offence. From their musical and warlike use sprang their subsequent adoption in martial dances. The Greeks, at one time, clinked oyster or other shells, holding them in their hands like castanets - a rather interesting source of the origin of the modern Castanet, which, in Spain, takes the place of an Eastern cymbal in music and dancing.
In ancient Egypt, the Almees, a sect of dancers, wore a long silken robe covered with an elaborate pattern, and fastened about them with a sash. This peculiar branch of terpsichorean slaves still exists. The Almees give themselves up to graceful contortions to the sound of cymbals, tambourines, and castanets.
The modern cymbal is a musical instrument of percussion, of indefinite musical pitch ; whereas the smaller, ancient cup-shaped cymbals sounded a definite note. The sound is obtained not so much by clashing the cymbals against each other as by rubbing their edges together, which produces a soft, lingering note, very effective and clear.
Castanets and cymbals are undoubtedly related, for the older form of Castanet was much larger than the modern type, and made of brass or bronze, being practically a cymbal of a smaller size.
The history of cymbals, as used in the dances of various nations, might well be traced by means of pictures, frescoes, and statuary from olden times until the present century, and in every country. On a beautiful vase now in the Louvre, dancing nymphs are seen with cymbals ; and there is a Grecian study by Hirsch of a rustic dance performed by a man and a girl, also with cymbals, which they use with great effect.
Step 6. Fig. 6. The dancer runs forward with cymbals crossed
Indeed, on countless canvases these instruments of music and adjuncts to dancing may be found.
The talan, consisting of two discs, one copper the other steel, is used in India by the musicians who accompany the Bayadere dances, and is in reality another form of a cymbal.
For use in children's dances cymbals are very valuable, and extremely pretty. But certain dangers are attached to their use, which make it advisable to teach cymbal dances only to children who are rather well advanced in their dancing.
The cymbals vary in size and weight, but the lightest weigh a quarter of a pound each ; also, in addition to the weight, the fact of having such a thing as a cymbal bound across the ringers of both hands is apt to make a child stiffen the whole of her hands, wrists, and arms to the shoulders. This, besides being bad for the child, and undoing the loosening effect of other dances on her arms and wrists, produces a very ugly, strained effect, totally opposed to the true Eastern movement, which is remarkable for its freedom and breadth.
It is wiser, therefore, to make sure that a child knows how to use her wrists and arms without tightening the muscles before putting cymbals into her hands. Even then the steps and attitudes may well be mastered without the cymbals.
It is well to make the child understand thoroughly how to use and hold the cymbals before attempting the combination of steps and cymbals. Make her stand still, and put the leather strap of the cymbal across the back of her ringers, inserting three of them through the loop. Be sure that she draws one cymbal across the other, continuing the movement upward or downward, occasionally clashing them sharply together. The cymbals never remain touching each other - as beginners always imagine - but pass on at once. A clearly marked attitude usually follows each clash or touch of the cymbals.
Ordinary brass cymbals, with a strap attached, may be bought quite inexpensively at any stores.
Step i. (Fig. 1.) The dancer walks four steps to the right, and four to the left, softly touching the cymbals at each step. A curtsey follows ; then she rises, clashes the cymbals, and bends backwards, • carrying one cymbal right over her head.
Step 8. Fig. 8. Final position, in which, after turning rapidly, the dancer sinks down on her knees
Step 2. (Fig. 2.) She looks at her reflection in the cymbal, which is raised above her head - each hand in turn - as she walks across the room.
Step 3. (Fig. 3.) Listening Step. Having clashed the cymbals, she raises her left foot at the back and turns slowly, listening to the vibration of the cymbal; then repeats the same to the left.
Step 4. (Fig. 4.) Kneeling Step. The dancer, kneeling, the cymbals are clashed behind, in front, and above her head, as she rises and turns.
Step 5. (Fig. 5.) Egyptian position, both arms extended to their full length.
Step 6. (Fig. 6.) Running step forward, the cymbals crossed.
Step 7. (Fig. 7.) Springing across and putting foot to knee, the dancer swings both arms round her head, and repeats to the left. Step 8. (Fig. 8.) Final position. Turning rapidly, the dancer sinks down on both knees, her cymbals crossed in front.