Zills or Zils are metallic cymbals used in Belly dancing. Zils is the Turkish name for them and Zagats is what they are called in Arabic. The history of the finger cymbals dates back to around 1500BC. They were a sacred instrument taking their name from the Goddess Cybele. The Zils are used today as a percussion instrument and remains a integral part of the Oriental dance. Unfortunately the quality of today's zils are very poor often made for the tourist trade so many Egyptians no longer learn to play them. So it is good the playing of zils has now been adopted in the Western world. Makers commonly use brass rather than bronze used for larger cymbals but they may also use other alloys. Often they are engraved.
There are many sizes of zils, a set consists of four cymbals, two for each hand. The most common has a diameter of about 5cm (2in). The size determines the sound, the bigger the zils the louder and more resonate and the smaller ones are higher pitched and have a more delicate, tinkly ringing sound. Tribal dancers may use a larger zil with a more mellow tone. They have two holes in the top to thread flat elastic through and the size is measured for your third finger and your thumb to fit comfortably. This makes it easier for you to control them. If they wiggle about you can not achieve the sound you require. (Zagats usually have the one hole and are not so easily controlled and is not the preferred sound either.)
In playing the cymbals the dancer adopts the rhythm of the drum and uses it to generate energy. They can produce either ringing tones or a harsh "clack" sound made by playing the edge of one zil on to the other zil. There are many rhythms in belly dancing that can be spelled out with the finger cymbals. To date we have been shown triplets, Beledi and Saidi.
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Rediscovering the Oldest Dance; The Belly Dance Book.
Belly Dancing; The sensual Art of Energy and Spirit.