burlesqueandcabaret

The ABC Beginner Guide to Feather Fans

November 10, 2015

The ABC Beginner Guide to Feather Fans

One of the biggest challenges when starting out in burlesque is budget. As you look to stock your wardrobe with luscious props and costumes, it will quickly become apparent that burlesque is an expensive business, and one in which the saying “It takes money to make money” is particularly true.
Our new series aims to walk you through what to look for when investing in your own first set of feather fans. This week, we’ll talk you through some of the basics before going into a step-by-step guide on how to make your own fans next week. It’s not as expensive as you might think and, although time-consuming, if you have crafty fingers, it’s well worth considering making your own.

ABC dancer & teacher Gilda Lily with her large, deluxe feather fans by TwistedStarz Designs. Image copyright Jade Starmore.

ABC dancer & teacher Gilda Lily with her large, deluxe feather fans by TwistedStarz Designs.
Image copyright Jade Starmore.

Buying Fans: Cost
A set of feather fans is often one of the first things new performers want; after all they are an iconic prop and most performers incorporate fan work into at least one of their routines.
A quick shop around will find you a set of fans from anything around the £60 mark (small, shipped from China on eBay and fairly low-quality feathers) to an average £250-£400 for a mid-range, good quality set and £600+ for a top quality, large, multi-layer set.
The prices can seem very confusing and quite overwhelming, but it’s all to do with quality.

Feather Quality
Sometimes it can be difficult to tell from photos, if you’re buying online, how good the feathers are. They can be carefully arranged for photos and pictures enhanced, so they might not look as good in real life. A good rule of thumb is, if they seem too cheap and too good to be true, they probably are and you may well find yourself disappointed when they arrive.

There are four main types of feathers used when it comes to making ostrich fans.

For absolute top-quality, full, super-fluffy, bright, luscious feathers, you will want male wing feathers. They are the longest feathers you can get (generally 20-30″) and the best quality. This is however, reflected in the price so perhaps not ideal for a beginner budget.

The next best quality would be the ‘Femina’ or female wing feathers. Although not as full as their male counterparts, they are still very good quality.

Male wing feathers and Feminas are fluffier than Drabs or Spads and provide better coverage.

Male wing feathers and Feminas are fluffier than Drabs or Spads and provide better coverage.

‘Drab’ feathers are next on the list and much more affordable. However, they are smaller, often thinner and not as fluffy as wing feathers. Nonetheless, for a small beginner set of fans, they are far more affordable and can be layered to make them look more plush and full.

Last choice would be tail feathers or ‘Spads’. Although long, they tend to be sparse and often taper off at the end, instead of remaining full and fluffy like the previously discussed feathers. However, like the drabs they could be layered, to compensate for their lack of fullness.

Fan Size
Whilst it can be tempting to go for the biggest, lushest pair of fans your budget can stretch to, you need to remember that the bigger they are, the harder they are to manipulate and move. Fan dancing is a learned skill and when you’re starting out, a small to medium size pair of fans (eg 22-28″ height x 34-44″ width) will be more than enough to get to grips with. Smaller fans are easier to move, especially if you’re just learning the basics and will also be lighter (you’d be surprised how much feathers can weigh on multi-layer fans!) so your arms and shoulders won’t get so tired. As a general rule, as long as you have enough coverage for the fans to serve their ‘hide and reveal’ purpose, then you’re good to go.

Staves: Acrylic, Wooden or Bamboo
Finally, you’ll have to choose your type of staves, which is the bit at the bottom that the feathers are mounted on. There are three options:

Acrylic: plastic or acrylic staves are extremely sturdy, which makes them good for beginners as they’re much less likely to get broken. However, they are quite stiff and also heavy, which can affect the movement and flow of the fans. They are generally available in clear or black plastic.

Wooden: wooden staves are also durable but have a little more natural movement to them than plastic staves. You also have the option to paint them to match your feathers.

Different types of fan staves. Top to bottom: Acrylic / plastic (black) Wooden (painted red) Bamboo (natural colour)

Different types of fan staves. Top to bottom:
Acrylic / plastic (black)
Wooden (painted red)
Bamboo (natural colour)

Bamboo: bamboo is the preferred stave type for many professional performers. They are light, flexible and because of this, flow beautifully and smoothly through the air when the fans are used. The downside to bamboo is that they are much more prone to splitting and breaking, especially if feathers are multi-layered on them and used vigorously; the bamboo simply cannot take the strain.

Join us again next week to learn how to make your own set of beginner feather fans.

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