Zills ("sagât" in Arabic) are small metal cymbals held in the palm of one's hand. They are percussion instruments used in traditional music-making and they give a typically Eastern flavour when played. Gypsy dancers (ghawazees) and Eastern dancers use them too with more basic rhythms to accompany their movements.
It is probable that they have ancient origins and are similar to the family of the sistrum, crotalum, castanets and other small hand-held instruments used in ancient cults and festivals, especially those in praise of the goddess Cybele.
Clément d’Alexandrie en attribue l’invention aux Siciliens, & en défend l’usage aux Chrétiens,
à cause des mouvemens & des gestes indécens que l’on faisoit en joüant de cet instrument.
Learning zills is an excellent exercise in developing coordination skills and a sense of rhythm. The courses run by Eve include rhythmic exercises designed to integrate "physically" the structures of rhythm and metric pulse, without any musical knowledge required.
Zills can be used to make various rhythm combinations. Here are some examples of zill rhythms which can be played to accompany dance.
A scene from the Lebanese film "Safar Barlek" (1966) with music from the Rahbani brothers
The dancer Naima Akef in the famous scene of the Egyptian film "Tamer henna" (1957)