Dance of the Seven Veils Day
annually on January 22nd
Salome's dance performance for Herod Antipas and his guests, which according to the Bible took place before the beheading of John the Baptist, is commemorated with Dance of the Seven Veils Day. In the biblical account, in Matthew 14, John the Baptist is imprisoned for his words of disapproval of Herod Antipas for his marriage to Herodias, who had previously been married to Herod II, Herod Antipas's half brother and the father of Salome by Herodias. Herod Antipas offers a reward to Salome if she dances before guests on his birthday, and Herodias convinces her to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.
The dance isn't given a name in the biblical account, and no veils are associated with it there. It first appeared as "Dance of the Seven Veils" in 1893, in the English translation of Salome, a play by Oscar Wilde that was first published in 1891 in French. The English version includes the stage direction "Salome dances the dance of the seven veils." It is implied that the veils are removed in a striptease. Wilde presented Salome as an image of lust, which other French writers had done before him.
Richard Strauss included the Dance of the Seven Veils in his 1905 opera, "Salome." The opera made its American debut on January 22, 1907—the date that is designated as Dance of the Seven Veils Day—at the Metropolitan Opera House (the Met). The performance inspired vaudeville performers everywhere to try out the dance. Although Strauss had intended for the dance to be rather wholesome, many interpretations were erotic, bordering on striptease. The proliferation of the dance in a provocative manner became known as "Salomania." In response to the opera and the erotic performances it generated, the directors of the Met prohibited the opera company from performing it.
But the dance did not disappear from public consciousness forever. A variation of it was performed by Rita Hayworth in the 1953 film Salome, and Brigid Bazlen performed it in the 1961 film King of Kings. The dance also lives on with Dance of the Seven Veils Day, which unofficially started in 1907, and has been marked as a holiday since at least 1983. Men and women take part in it, but women are usually the ones who do the dance, while men watch. Seven veils or loose, long scarves are needed while performing the dance. Clothing usually consists of a bikini top and long, flowing pants. Jewelry such as bracelets, anklets, and rings are often worn, and a pair of finger cymbals is optional, being clicked while performing the dance. The Dance of the Seven Veils is a belly dance, but it is not necessary for dancers to be belly dance experts in order to participate, and anyone can take part in Dance of the Seven Veils Day.
How to Observe Dance of the Seven Veils Day
The most appropriate way to take part in the day is to either perform or watch a performance of the Dance of the Seven Veils. It is most common for women to perform the dance, but men may also do so. Men usually make up most of the audience, but women may watch as well. If you are dancing, it is advantageous to practice the routine before gathering family and friends together. Then, traditional clothing should be put on and furniture should be moved out of the way. It has been suggested that guests be given cushions to sit on and food, such as kebabs, to eat.
As you prepare to enter the room, have one of the guests start the music. Middle Eastern style music is most fitting, such as Korsakov's Scheherazade. During the dance, move as gracefully as you can, in time with the music, and slowly remove the veils. If you are unable to perform or see the dance, you can still celebrate the day, by reading Oscar Wilde's Salome, reading Matthew 14, watching Salome, and watching King of Kings.