ad 4 Fahtiem

Gilded Serpent presents...
When the Hip Hits the Fan
by Princess Farhana

Though fan dancing is not considered traditional in raqs sharqi, due to the increasing popularity of fusion, many Oriental dancers are  exploring fusing the many styles of fan dancing and Belly dance  with stunning results. When used onstage, fans are FAN-ciful, conveying various emotions to an audience, as well as being a spectacular visual treat. They can be dramatic and stately, or coy and flirtatious and are always a crowd pleaser!

About ten years ago, I became interested in dancing with fans. When I became proficient in dancing with single and double fans of many types, then I began experimenting with incorporating fan use into my Belly dance shows. I am not alone: many well-known Belly dancers are known for using fan work in their routines.

Blue Damsel (Rachel Lazarus-Soto and Politti Ashcraft) often blend the use of Chinese Mulan fans into their Asian-Fusion dances; Colorado-based Isadora Bushkovsky does a beautiful Flamenco-influenced fan fusion, and Bay Area dancer Shabnam Pena  has consistently and beautifully worked with large, burlesque-style Sally Rand fans.  Troupes such as Oklahoma’s Gypsy Fire, The Dream Harem from Texas, or San Diego’s Indirani often use fans in choreographed group routines. One of the original proponents of Belly dance and fan dancing fusion is Meleea of Texas, who not only has danced with fans for years, but also sells a wide variety of fans worthy of stage use on her site. 

To get into an overview of history, fans have been used for thousands of years, and have been a part of every culture on the globe. Archeologists have uncovered murals and statues depicting fan use from ancient Egypt, Greece, Assyria, and all over Asia. Fans have been used extensively in everything from traditional and folkloric dances as well as in theatrical, classical, fantasy as well as ritual pieces. They have been used by solo dancers as well as in choreographed group pieces, as well as props in non-performance social group dances, such as the 17th and 18th century court dances of Europe. 

Before the days of climate control and air conditioning, men as well as women routinely carried fans and used them to keep cool.  The folding fan was invented in Japan, in the 8th century, and later taken to China in the 9th century. Fans used in the Renaissance period of Europe had lavishly decorated handles, which pre-dated hand fans. Folding fans were not introduced to Europe until the 1600s, and were in high demand among royalty and the upper classes, due to their exquisite craftsmanship.

Flirtatious females always knew the power and allure of fans. In Victorian times, there was even a  language of gesturing with fans, with various positions (open or closed, held again the face, snapped open or fluttered, etc.) serving as a secret social  code between women and their suitors these silent movements got the point across in a non-verbal way that also preserved the fan’s owner’s appearance and social status.

Throughout Asia, fans have been used in court dances, ritual presentation and classical and folkloric theatrical shows. In Korea, dating from about the time of the Choson (sometimes spelled “Joson”) Dynasty (1392-1910 AD) traditional fan dancers pose and move in circles portraying flowers, swaying gracefully. Chinese dancing fans, sometimes known Mulan fans, are unique because they have a ruffle, which extends beyond the bamboo tines of the fan and flutters beautifully when manipulated correctly. Fans are also used in Asian martial arts practices as well. Tai Chi fans have traditional patterns and designs (dragons, phoenix birds, etc.)  embroidered or printed on the material, and on authentic fans, the staves are made of steel or some other metal, which  I do not recommend for stage use in a dance performance!

Traditionally, fans have been used in Spanish Flamenco as well as various other Rom (gypsy) rooted dances from all across Europe. The Flamenco fans, known as pericons, are typically made of lace, sometimes combined with another type of decorative woven material, or light, hand-painted silk, and are used in the Sevillanas style of Flamenco.  In North America, folding hand fans are used in Mexican Ballet Folklorico, and flat-feathered fans with rigid handles are sometimes used in the traditional shamanic dances of various Native American nations.

Perhaps the best known and the showiest use of fans also stems from America. Burlesque legend Sally Rand appeared at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and instantly became an overnight sensation with her fan dance routine, in which she appeared nude (or possibly wearing a full-body stocking) using two gigantic luxurious fans made of ostrich plumes to conceal and reveal her charms. Born in 1903 in Missouri, Sally Rand had been a circus acrobat and performed on the vaudeville and burlesque circuits. She also appeared in over twenty silent films, as well as in talkies, including her famous fan dance sequences in the films  “Bolero” and Cecile B. De Mille’s “King Of Kings”. It is said that she saved the World’s Fair, attracting a huge crowd with her fan dance…small wonder she attracted such a crowd: she was notorious for her scandalous shows and had been arrested a number of times. She performed the very same fan routine almost exclusively in her rich career, which spanned over fifty years. Her legacy lives on even now, and her fan dance has become a part of theatrical history, as well as a burlesque staple. Today, the gigantic, impressive ostrich fans used worldwide are still referred to as “Sally Rand Fans”.

If you would like to start using fans while belly dancing, I would recommend a lot of practice before adding them into a stage routine. Not only are fans a prop, they should function an extension of your bodily movement and expression ( like zills) and cannot be merely flung away, like veils.  Practice with smaller fans at first- the constant movement of the arms and shoulders can really take it’s toll on your muscles! See what type of fans you like, or choose those that make  sense with your dancing. Experiment with using fan technique from different cultures and traditions: haughty flamenco poses, coy geisha poses, and dramatic gypsy attitude. Incorporate sweeping turns with the fans aloft, use the burlesque / tease premise of  “conceal and reveal”. Use the fan to frame your face or your abdominal technique or hip work, use two fans for full-body poses.

Here are some different fans you may want to play around with:

  • Flamenco Pericons-  Made entirely of lace or fabric, and in many cases, a combination of both, these hand fans are strikingly beautiful, often intricately hand-painted and hand-crafted and sturdy, they can be snapped open and shut quite easily.
  • Mulan Fans & Fan Veils- These material fans- version of the traditional Mulan Fan has recently become a very popular prop with Fusion–style belly dancers… it’s tail- sometimes a yard or longer in length- flies through the air dramatically during spins and turns. These fans are usually made of 100% silk because a synthetic blend won’t cause the fan to float and “defy gravity” the way it should.
  • Marabou Fans-  These large hand fans are made of marabou feathers, often tipped with peacock and pheasant feathers, and though fragile, can look great onstage.
  • Sally Rand Fans- The reigning royalty of stage fans, Sally Rand-style theatrical fans have been a classic staple in burlesque performances for decades. Mounted on strong plastic staves, these fans open and close fairly easily, but still will not snap open because of the bulk of the feathers.  These beauties can have a single row of feathers, or can be layered with up to four rows of large ostrich plumes.  Because of the relative heaviness of the staves, the large circumference (or “wing span”) and the potential bulk of the feathers, these fans may be difficult to handle at first, and may take a bit of getting used to. Also good to know: because of the large size of these fans, the slower they sweep through the air, the better they look; but slow movements with such a large, weighty prop will definitely work your muscles, and you may experience some muscle soreness when you first begin to work with Sally Rand fans. These fans are hand-made and don’t come cheaply- expect to pay anywhere from $250.00-$600.00 per pair new, depending on the size, craftsmanship, amount of feathers and even the colors or custom dying of the feathers…and you thought Belly dance costumes were expensive!

When using any sort of fans, make sure to do a complete warm-up of the hands, wrists, arm, and shoulders, in addition to your usual warm-up.

see author's biopage for coming fan workshops

Have a comment? Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

9-8-05 Belly Dance, Burlesque and Beyond: Confessions of a Post Modern Showgirl by Princess Farhana (Pleasant Gehman)
“BUT WAIT!!!”I can hear you screaming, “BURLESQUE IS STRIPPING!”

11-21-02 The Great American Belly Dance Veil Routine by Najia El Mouzayen
After having said all that, I must add that American style Oriental/Belly dance is a distinctive style composed of creative elements that are simply outstanding.

6-9-06 Weird Rituals and Beyond: Exploring Current Controversies in Middle Eastern Dance by Barbara Grant
If you are like me, (I know that many are not) you first responded viscerally and negatively to both situations. Then, as the shock wore off, perhaps you tried to make sense of it all.

4-3-08 Dances along the Nile, Part 1: Raks Al Asaya by Gamila El Masri, Reprinted with permission, from Bennu, Issue Vol.6 #3
There is strength in the cane twirl but not aggression, extreme rapid twirling should be held as an additional sensational feat, less is more. Have your body of twirling be moderate so that you can vary from slow to climatic; always reflecting the music, it's mood and tempo. Get down without getting crazy.

3-31-08 A New Venue for Rakkasah Festival West by Susie Poulelis
In retail, there is a saying that having an item sell out was a happy problem to have. You want to keep your customers yearning for more, making sure they won't hesitate to buy the next time they see something they want.

3-27-08 To Buy or Not to Buy –A Guide to Mass Market Belly Dance Instructional DVDs by Yasmin
Most producers ask or hire others to write glowing reviews. You will often see the same people reviewing a producer’s entire line of product. Those are suspect. Look for the one-off comments. They will give a better overview, along with anything less than 5 stars.

3-25-08 A Career Path Less Traveled: Dancing in Movies and TV in the'60s, An Interview with Tanya Lemani by John Clow
In "Get Smart" I enjoyed working with Karen Steele and Don Adams. They took some of my lines out and Don saw that I was upset. Don insisted that they give some of them back to me.

3-22-08 Hafla at the Hoover featuring Morocco February 10, 2008, Hoover Theatre in San Jose, CA Video and photos by Lynette
Debbie Smith on scene reporter, event produced by The San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of MECDA

3-17-08 From Cabaret to DJ Bellydance in New York: An Overview, 1988 - 2007 by Nina Costanza (Amar)
But the primary forums for dancers, the major New York nightclubs, have closed their doors. Cabaret is gone; it is the era of the DJ. And the new dancer has to have another job.

ad 4 Casbah Dance

ad 4 Dhy & Karen

 Gilded Serpent
 Cover page, Contents, Calendar Comics Bazaar About Us Letters to the Editor Ad Guidelines Submission Guidelines