by Stu Dawrs
Of the myriad safety precautions one should take when handling cutlery, proper hair care doesn’t immediately spring to mind. But it can make a world of difference when you’re doing the raks seif. Arabic for "sword dancing," raks seif is exactly what the name implies: A form of Middle Eastern dance that often involves balancing a hefty, three-foot sword edgewise on your head. As Willow Chang points out, this is no easy feat. "A lot of people will say, ‘It’s not a real sword because it doesn’t have a sharp edge,’ but it definitely hurts if gravity comes into the picture," says the Honolulu-born belly dancer. "I’m a big fan of turns, and I like to spin really rapidly with the sword on my head. If I use too much conditioner, it’s out of the question—my hair is just too slippery. These are the little things you learn the hard way."
photo by Elea Dumas
Fortunately, Willow has managed to avoid serious injury in the eight years since she first fell in love with Middle Eastern dance, while performing as a hula dancer at a resort in Egypt. Meanwhile, she has become one of Honolulu’s most in-demand belly dancers and instructors; founded a belly-dance troupe; finished up a University of Hawaii degree (in dance, naturally); and worked as the lead singer for some of Honolulu’s more popular club bands.
As for the raks seif, there’s no trick to Willow’s trade: "There’s no easy way," she says. "It’s just practicing over and over until it doesn’t even feel like it’s there." Oh, and if you think the sword is tough, you should see her traditional Egyptian shamadan. "It’s basically Liberace’s fantasy," she explains. "You have a large candelabra balanced on your head-with the candles burning."
For lesson and performance info, call (808) 292-0820, or visit willowchang.com.