Dance of the Seven Veils

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Salome (as portrayed by Maude Allan) asking for the head of John the Baptist after her Dance of the Seven Veils.

In several notable works of Western culture, the Dance of the Seven Veils (usually described as danced by Salome) is one of the elaborations on the biblical tale of the execution of John the Baptist. Details enriching the story in later Christian mythology include providing a name for the dance, and describing the purpose of the dance as being to inflame King Herod with incestuous desire so that he would grant Salome her desire, for the head of the Baptist.


Biblical account

According to ten verses of Matthew 14, John was imprisoned for criticizing King Herod Antipas's marriage to Herodias, the former wife of Antipas' "brother" Herod Philip I. Herod offered his niece a reward of her choice for performing a dance on his birthday. Herodias persuaded her daughter to ask for John the Baptist's head on a platter. Against his better judgment, Antipas reluctantly acceded to her request.

Account by Flavius Josephus

The historian Josephus lists the stepdaughter's name as Salome, but makes no mention of a dance.[1]

Possible reference to Pagan/pre-Christian myth

The Dance of the Seven Veils is also thought to have originated with the myth of the fertility goddess Ishtar (Astarte) of Assyrian and Babylonian religion. In this myth, Ishtar decides to visit her sister, Ereshkigal, in the underworld. When Ishtar approaches the gates of the underworld, the gatekeeper lets Ishtar pass through the seven gates, opening one gate at a time. At each gate, Ishtar has to shed an article of clothing. When she finally passes the seventh gate, she is naked. She is then imprisoned by Ereshkigal. When she is later rescued and passes back through the seven gates, Ishtar receives one article of clothing back at each gate, and is fully clothed as she exits the last gate.

Cultural references

The Oscar Wilde play Salomé, and Strauss's opera adaptation, both feature the dance of the seven veils. The dance remains unnamed except in the acting notes, but Salome's sexual fascination with John seems to motivate the request—though Herod is portrayed as pleased. The most famous music for the "Dance of the Seven Veils" comes from near the climax of the opera. The visual content of that scene (about seven minutes in length with standard tempi) has varied greatly depending on the aesthetic notions of the stage director, choreographer, and soprano, and on the choreographic skills and body shape of that singer.

The 1953 film Salome features Rita Hayworth performing the dance of the seven veils as a strip dance in which she starts the dance wearing seven "veils" (most of which more closely resemble scarves) and removes six of them during the course of the dance, ending the routine wearing only a beige and gold dress, which is the seventh veil. The veils she removes, in order from first removed to last are: black and gold, blue and silver, purple, red, orange and pink, and finally yellow.

The character Lisa in the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock film Rear Window remarks that she'll have to move "into an apartment across the way and do the dance of the seven veils every hour" if she's to keep her boyfriend sensually entertained, and not peeping at a ballet-dancer in the opposite apartment.

In the 1961 film King of Kings, Salomé, portrayed by Brigid Bazlen, performs a similar dance;[2] her voluptuous seduction of a drunken lascivious Herod Antipas remains highly praised and is now widely regarded as Bazlen's best performance.[3][4]

The Dubliners sing of Salome dancing for "Paddy", "taking off her seven veils," in their song, "Maloney Wants a Drink." The song was written by Brendan Behan, for their 1967 album, More of the Hard Stuff.

In The Night Porter (Il Portiere di notte), a controversial 1974 film of the Nazi exploitation genre by Italian director Liliana Cavani, Charlotte Rampling plays concentration camp survivor Lucia Atherton. In an iconic scene, Lucia sings a Marlene Dietrich song and dances for the concentration camp guards while wearing pieces of an SS uniform, and her Nazi abuser Max rewards her with the head of a male inmate who had been bullying the other inmates. (The Duran Duran video "The Chauffeur" features an homage to this dance.)

Sinéad O'Connor refers to the dance in her song, "Mandinka", on her 1987 album The Lion and the Cobra: "I'm dancing the seven veils/ Want you to pick up my scarf/ See how the black moon fades/ Soon I can give you my heart"

The R-rated 1988 film, Salome's Last Dance features Imogen Millais-Scott as a chambermaid playing the part of Salome in a film rendition of Oscar Wilde's play. In the film she performs a dance of veils. After she has promised to dance and the king agrees to give her anything she wants as a reward, he then inquires why she has not yet started the dance, and she replies, "I am waiting for my slaves to bring me perfume, and the seven veils, and to unlace my boots". The majority of the dance in this film however is performed by a man (Dougie Howes) dressed in a copy of Salome's veil costume.

The climax to the Tom Robbins 1990 novel Skinny Legs and All features the mysterious belly-dancer Salome performing an hours-long version of the Dance of the Seven Veils. As each of her veils drops, the main character comes to an epiphany about life.

U2 released a song called "Salomé" as a B-side to their 1992 single "Even Better Than the Real Thing". The dance is referenced in the song's chorus - "Shake it, shake it, shake it, Salomé". The song was a prominent project during the early stages of recording for Achtung Baby, but was later relegated to a B-side after the band decided they were not satisfied with the lyrics.

Singer/songwriter Liz Phair released a song named "Dance of the Seven Veils" on her 1993 album Exile in Guyville.

In 2004, British singer-songwriter Lucie Silvas released a song called "Seven Veils" on her debut album Breathe In.

On a 2007 episode of the American TV program Ace of Cakes, Charm City Cakes owner Duff Goldman performs a "Dance of the Seven Veils", slowly removing seven veils to display a cake his bakery made for a variety show called "Glitterama."[5]

The band Xandria released the album Salomé – The Seventh Veil in 2007, which includes a song titled "Salome".

Eskimo Joe's 2004 album A Song Is a City includes a track "Seven Veils".

Pete Doherty released a song called "Salome" on his 2009 album Grace/Wastelands.

In the 2011 video game Saints Row: The Third there is a compliment entitled The Seven Veils, in which the character belly dances.

During the 2012 episode of True Blood titled "Whatever I Am, You Made Me" the vampire Salome, a Chancellor of the Vampire Authority, has a discussion with Bill about the actual events surrounding the beheading of John the Baptist and the Dance of the Seven Veils. She remarks that the "human Bible" is "little better than US Weekly."


  1. ^ From Josephus' Jewish Antiquities (Book XVIII, Chapter 5, 4):

    Herodias, [...], was married to Herod, the son of Herod the Great, who was born of Mariamne, the daughter of Simon the high priest, who had a daughter, Salome; after whose birth Herodias took upon her to confound the laws of our country, and divorced herself from her husband while he was alive, and was married to Herod, her husband's brother by the father's side, he was tetrarch of Galilee; but her daughter Salome was married to Philip, the son of Herod, and tetrarch of Trachonitis; and as he died childless, Aristobulus, the son of Herod, the brother of Agrippa, married her; they had three sons, Herod, Agrippa, and Aristobulus.

  2. ^ King of Kings - Variety.
  3. ^ Nicholas Ray's - King of Kings - DVD Review Jeffrey Hunter DVD Review Nicholas Ray King of Kings DVD Review Jeffrey Hunter DVD Review
  4. ^ King of Kings (1961) - Ferdy on Films, etc..
  5. ^ List of Ace of Cakes episodes