The ABC Performance Guide: Fans & Fan Dancing Part 1

This week the ABC Performance guide returns to ruffle some feathers as we take a peek at the classic burlesque number that is the fan dance. Made famous by early American stripteasers such as Faith Bacon and Sally Rand, the fan dance has a timeless appeal that means it remains a popular performance piece today worldwide.

However, over the years new and different kinds of fans have been produced, from silk to fire fans and more and fan dancing has evolved into a diverse type of performance that can vary greatly. Over our next couple of blogs we shall be looking at different kinds of fans, their use in performance and also some of the pitfalls to watch out for when putting together a fan performance.

Burlesque Fan Dances versus Showgirl Fan Dances
Here at Academy of Burlesque & Cabaret, we teach two basic types of fan dance: burlesque fan dancing and showgirl fan dancing. Burlesque fan dances are often solo acts (although they’re often seen as double or troupe acts too) and in a classic burlesque fan dance, the emphasis is generally on the ‘hide and reveal’ tease of the fans. The fans are used to create a stunning visual through their movement and to conceal different parts of the body.
Showgirl fan dances on the other hand, are always large group numbers, where the emphasis is on the visual spectacle of the fans and the shapes that can be created with so many pairs of fans, as well as patterns and uniformity.

Showgirls with fans
Showgirl fan line-up; note the pattern created by the fans

Types of Fans
There are various different types of fans out there for burlesque and cabaret performance here are some of the most popular.

Classic Ostrich Plume Fans
These can be made in different colours and sizes, but generally use anything from six to 25 or more feathers per fan, mounted on staves. Staves can be made from various materials, including bamboo, wood and acrylic. These are the most common type of fans seen in burlesque performance.

Ostrich Plume Fan
Ostrich plume feather fan on wooden staves

Pheasant Feather Fans
Another burlesque prop that has seen a marked rise in popularity recently thanks to Dita’s use of them in her Bird of Paradise routine. Pheasant feather fans utilise a lot more feathers than ostrich fans, because the feathers are thinner so more are required for coverage. They tend to be more rigid than ostrich fans and are usually mounted on a fixed base, as opposed to individual staves.

ABC teacher Daiquiri performing with boa fans
ABC teacher Daiquiri performing with ostrich boa fans

Ostrich Boa Fans
The deluxe version of ostrich fans. These are the type of fans used by Sally Rand in her famous fan dance. Much like the ostrich plume fans, they are usually mounted on staves but instead of plumes, long feather boas are used (generally 1-3 metres in length). They are much heavier than plume fans and require a slightly different technique to use, because of their weight and the way the boas drop depending on how the fans are held.


That brings us to the end of this week’s blog. Join us next week as we look at other types of fans, mastering techniques and pitfalls to look out for when putting together a fan dance.

The second part in our Fan Dancing Performance Guide is now available here: Fans & Fan Dancing Part 2.