The ABC Performance Guide: Fans & Fan Dancing Part 3

So we reach the final installment in the ABC Performance Guide Fans & Fan Dancing series. So far, we’ve looked at the many different kinds of fans used in burlesque performance and the differing styles and visual effects which can be achieved depending on the type of fans you have. In this final blog, we’re going to cover some of the basics when using the most popular type of fans and also highlight some of the common mistakes we’ve seen in fan performance.

Fan Basics
In this section, we are going to take the most common type of fans as our example: classic ostrich plume fans. When learning to use your fans, the first step is to master a number of basic still poses or shapes which can be achieved with the fans. For example, covering the body front and back with fans, posing with the fans framing your face and the classic ‘peacock’ pose. (We teach these and much more in our Fan Dancing Workshops if you are interested in learning more).

Former ABC student Miss Hell's Belle strikes the peacock pose. Image copyright Jo Hanley Photography.
Former ABC student & Miss Exotic World Finalist (2010) Miss Hell’s Belle strikes the peacock pose.
Image copyright Jo Hanley Photography.

Once you’ve gotten to grips with some of the basic poses, you can begin to experiment with the movement of the fans and changing from one pose to the next. Fan dancing can be tricky to begin with; it can feel clumsy, the fans can bash into one another / get tangled and the movement can appear quite disjointed. Here at the ABC we advise students to think of the fans as an extension of themselves. The movement flows through the wrist naturally and the body follows through creating a fluid, seemingly effortless movement. Having mastered the basic poses and some movement, it’s then a case of practise, practise, practise! If you have access to a large mirror for rehearsing, that’s great, as you’ll be able to see exactly how your movement translates to someone in the audience; something that seems good from behind the fans might not actually make that great a visual from the audience perspective or vice versa.

Performance Technique
As mentioned previously, the technique for different kinds of fans can vary hugely. Factors such as size, weight, shape, material can all affect how the fans can be manipulated onstage and the effect that can be created with them. For example, some of the classic poses described above which work with the ostrich plume fans might not work with veil or fire fans.
Points to consider when using different types of fan are:

*How does the fan ‘sit’ in certain poses? If you’re using a draping-type fan (like boa or veil fan) then you have to take this into consideration as the fans won’t sit the same as plume fans, which are obviously more stiff and can be used to create certain upright shapes around the body, whereas boa and veil fans will just hang down.

Consider the way your fans 'sit' or 'drape' in different poses. Image copyright John Hewat.
Consider the way your fans sit or drape in different poses. Image copyright John Hewat.

*What unusual / unique kinds of movement can be achieved by the specific material from which the fans are made? To use boa and veil fans as the example again, these types of fans are excellent for creating long, flowing movements. The veil fans’ light, floaty effect allows them to waft through the air, almost like vapour trails. The boa fans’ heavier weight and fluffiness make them ideal for bold, sweeping movements where they can be used to create incredible dramatic tension.

*What are the safety aspects? This point is mainly for fire fans. Unlike other types of fans, when learning to use fire fans, you have to be very aware not only of the visual effect of the fans, but also the safety of yourself and the audience. For instance, you’d want to be very careful when using the fans around your head, so as not to set your hair on fire!

Fan Dancing Faux-Pas
As such a popular style of act, fan dancing can arguably be seen in just about any burlesque show you could attend. However, given how common they are, it’s not unusual to see some commonly repeated mistakes in fan usage. So our top three fan faux-pas are…

1. Not being comfortable with your fans. If you bought your first fans this afternoon and you’re hitting the stage tonight, it will be apparent to the audience. It takes time to get a feel for your fans and the best ways to work with them, so don’t scrimp on rehearsal time. Get to know your fans and you’ll get the best out of them.

2. Using an obvious / over-used track, for example ‘Feeling Good’. It’s a great song no doubt, but I’ve been at more than one event where there’s been a clash because two performers are both doing a fan dance to the same track. Try to think outside the box and find an unusual, new or unique piece to set your fan dance to and don’t forget to check that it’s not been done before. YouTube is your friend.

3. Fans / movement / music don’t gel. Obviously there is a degree of creative choice and individual artistic license when creating a fan dance but some things just don’t work. For example, a cheesecake style fan dance, with pastel coloured fans set to a Marilyn Manson track. Nope.

And so that brings us to the end of our Fans & Fan Dancing Guide. If you missed the first 2 blogs in this mini series, you can find them here:

Fans & Fan Dancing: Part 1
Fans & Fan Dancing: Part 2