Fans are a popular accessory for dancers in many cultures. Native American Indians use hand-held feather fans decorated with colorful beaded handles for dances. In the Spanish art of flamenco, large folding fans accentuate the dancer’s dramatic movements. Fans are a fun accessory for belly dancers, who use feather fans or folding fans, depending upon the dance style. The rich history of the fan can inspire you to create your own unique fan dance.
History of the fan
Fans have a long history around the world. The Pharaohs used as fans as cooling instruments, status symbols and decorative items. They consisted of ostrich feathers attached to the tops of long poles, and were used for fanning the royals and for ceremonial processions.
In China, feather fans appeared 2,000 years ago; the folding fan (topped with paper or fabric) was invented in Japan in the 8th century. The fan became an art form in Asia, due to the beautiful paintings used as decoration. Round fans were especially popular with ladies.
In Europe and the United States, ladies fans came to peak of popularity during the 1600-1800’s as a fashion accessory and cooling instrument. Ladies used gestures with the fan (the “Language Of The Fan”) for flirting and giving covert messages to gentlemen. Fans were richly decorated, sometimes with paintings on silk fabric, lace accents, and ribs made of mother of pearl.
Choosing a fan
Modern folding fans come in many styles, and are made with ribs of wood or plastic topped with fabric, colored paper, or feathers. Some have lovely painted designs or embroidery. In belly dancing and flamenco, wooden-ribbed fans are preferable to plastic fans because they open and close most easily. New fans may be stiff at first and need to be opened and closed a number of times to break them in.
Non-folding fans have a firm base that is covered in fabric and topped with feathers. You can make your own by gluing craft sticks together in a fan shape, creating a handle, covering with fabric, and attaching plumes.
Movement ideas for creating your own fan dance:
1. Google for “Language of the Fan” and act out a story using this language.
2. Open the folding fan using one or both hands, or flick it open for dramatic effect.
3. Play peek-a-boo with the fan, concealing and revealing one or both eyes.
4. Put your hands behind your back; fan your back as you walk in a circular pattern.
5. Hold the fan out to your side and walk around the fan as you hold it (space hold technique).
6. Holding fan over your heart, look at your right shoulder, gently pulsing the shoulder forward.
7. Hold the fan like a veil, covering the nose and lower part of the face.
8. Scoop the air with the fan, creating loops, circles, or figure 8’s in the air.
9. Turn with the fan, showing the fan’s design to the audience.
10. Hold the fan over your head with one or both hands, and do a box step.
11. Go to YouTube.com and search for “Fan dances” for ideas from around the world.