Lately, I’ve been working on expressing nature elements in Raqs Sharqi (Belly Dance). There are movements that are reminiscent of the elements such as wind, fire, earth, and air. Incorporating these ideas in music and dance for which it makes sense can give your dance an added edge and layers for translating the music in dance.
Fan dancing is a great expression for BOTH fire and air dance movements. Of course, you don’t need props in dance to use these element qualities. But if you do, fans are a great representation of fire and air. After all, air and wind fans the fire, pardon the pun.
Fan dance has a great history. Fan dancing comes from many cultures. Flamenco dancers incorporates fan dancing, Chinese dancers have both the standard Chinese fans as well as fabric fans of various lengths, and the Japanese and Koreans also have a fan dance. These are just a few places where fan dance is used.
Fan dancing in Raqs Sharqi has now been incorporated as a norm. It is used in both Arabic and Egyptian dance as well as Fusion Belly Dance. Fusion Belly Dancers began using fans and it became so widespread in the last twenty years, it is not uncommon to see more traditional folkloric dancers incorporate the fans in their prop dancing. After all, if a veiled fan is used the movement vocabulary is very similar to the traditional veil or wings dance. The term “traditional” is very loose nowadays, considering how much culture trading goes on in dance nowadays. Some may argue that if you dance with a fan, it is strictly Fusion Belly Dance. But as everything else does, dance evolves and one day may be considered a “traditional” prop in the Raqs Sharqi community. It is certainly not unusual anymore.
I love using both Flamenco fans and Chinese fabric fans in my Belly Dance repertoire. When using fabric fans, the dance takes on an airy quality. Many veiled fan dances tell a story usually pertaining to ethereal subjects such as heaven. Chinese dance does not always use fabric fans. They can use fan dances for theatrical emphasis or to pass down traditions as demonstrated here. When it comes to character dances, there is even an earthy feel to the dance. Thus, giving another nature element to the fan dance.
Flamenco dancers definitely have both fire and air elements in the fan dance. The movements, still fluid and seamless also have a sharpness and energy encompassing fire quality with strong, precise arms. Fan dancing in Flamenco is a compliment to the dance as are other props such as shawls and castanets.
When incorporating fan dancing in the Belly Dance, I think about what origin I want to tie the dance to. This helps me decide if the dance is going to be more of a ritual or if it’s more free in abstract expression. The musical choice is the main factor in theme decision. After all, dance always has to reflect the music. I also consider if we want to tie the fan dance into veil dancing in Belly Dance.
For my newest piece, I decided to use Flamenco fans for a choreography to the famous Wala Marra. The song has a lot of fire energy in it and the movement choices fit well with this percussive song. I also tried the whole dance with short veil fans. I found switching out the fans changes the quality completely, however both types of fans work.
This dance is a duet with my daughter and we choreographed the piece in a week. We performed this at our last engagement and it was a mesmerizing hit. The fire and air movements worked complimentarily and I think it is one of my favorite dances that I’ve created in the last few years. Stay tuned as we fine tune and sharpen this dance. I will upload to my YouTube channel this summer.
I hope you enjoyed this thought-piece on fan dancing for Belly Dance and how it expresses the energies of fire and air elements. Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter and stay in touch via social media.