Middle Eastern Dance
Fans and Veil Fans
Below you will find information on Fans and Veil Fans as used in Belly Dance.

Dancing with fans is not traditional in Middle Eastern dances and
certainly has never been part of traditional Raqs Sharqi but it has
existed in other cultures for centuries.  Fan dances emerged in China
and Japan as early as 1000 B.C.E. and have since spread to many
eastern Asian countries.  Some interesting variations have developed
from the Asian fan dances such as the Chinese combination of ribbon
dancing and fan dancing which brought the Mulan Fan into use.  The
Mulan Fan is a silk fan with a tail, which created what we now often refer
to as a fan veil or veil fan.  Most Asian dances utilize a more traditional
folding style fan which is often used as a group.  The groups then
perform together using the fans to create imagery and/or evoke a sense
of grace and lightness.  The traditional Korean fan dance (Buchaechum)
has dancers that create group patterns representing birds, flowers,
butterflies and even rolling waves.  Traditional Vietnamese fan dance
(vũ phiến) on the other hand focus more on graceful manipulation of
the wrist to open and close the fans, create delicate push/pull
movements between the dancers two fans and small quick fluttering of
the fan.
Folding fans spread from Asia to Europe around the where fans were
imported for the upper class.  Eventually they became common
items in the European culture and dancing with them was common in
European courts. European court dances mostly featured occasional
fluttering in front of one’s face as a mark of modesty and coy
flirtation.  It did however become a part of Flamenco dances, which
developed among the Rom of post Andalusian Spain around 1500
C.E.  Flamenco fans often made of lace or trimmed with lace are used
to a dramatic effect in Flamenco dance as they are crisply snapped
open and used as an extension of the arm to frame and emphasize the
movement of the dancer.

In the Americas, fan dancing developed much later around 1930 C.E.
by dancer Sally Rand.  Sally Rand began dancing with oversized
ostrich feather fans while wearing a flesh toned body suit.  Her dance
consisted of a conceal and reveal format in which she twisted and
twirled two fans around her body so that the audience was always in
anticipation of catching a glimpse of her underneath.  Sally Rand
performed on the Burlesque circuit and continued performing until
1972 just years before she died at age 75.

Modern bellydancers have used all of these fans and more.  They
combine traditional fan dances with modern bellydance.  They were
probably first introduced as a part of Gypsy/Flamenco fusion pieces
featuring Flamenco style fans or as a fusion of Burlesque Sally Rand
style fans and bellydance.  Bellydance itself had a long run in burlesque
and vaudeville circuits as the “hootchie kootchie”.  Veil Fans with their
long veil tail and other traditional Asian style fan work is a much newer
fusion gaining popularity since the 1990s.  Since the fans are used as
fusion there are no hard and fast rules and dancers draw on inspiration
from any, and all styles to create their dances.

Fan veils are utilized in a way that combines traditional American style
veil work with traditional Chinese Mulan fan work within a bellydance
context.  It utilizes movements that are similar to veil, double veil, and Isis wings.  The dancer often will spin around so the veils fly around the body and barrel/airplane turns are commonly used.  Many traditional veil moves can be adapted for Fan veils.  Dancers utilizing the typical Sally Rand fan usually follow her format of conceal and reveal although they feature more and longer periods of reveal to show of hip work and of course their fabulous costuming.  Dancers utilizing the folding fans or smaller feather fans tend to use them more like Flamenco or Asian dancers showing graceful movements and /or quick manipulations of the wrist, twirling and swing the fan(s) around themselves.  Quick flittering movements are sometimes used to accentuate shimmies and fans are often used to cover the lower portion of the face for a dramatic effect or for a coy flirtatious feel.  The only other common use, which is by far the newest addition, is the fire fan, which is a metal fan framework with no fabric.  It looks almost like a fan skeleton.  On the ends of each spoke is a torch which is lit on fire.  Fire fans combine movements from Fire dancing and traditional Asian dances.  When used by belly dancers it is combined with Middle Eastern movement vocabularies.  Fire fans are the most dangerous fan to use as a prop and movements used with them tend to stay further away from the body.  They feature more spinning, twirling, and wider dramatic sweeping motions.  These are most common among tribal style fusion dancers but have started to become more popular among even American Nightclub/Cabaret style dancers especially those who do fusion.  To see a few examples of Bellydance fan fusions watch the videos below:

Xaeda of Sacred Lotus Bellydance performing with Veil fans.
An Almeh Performing The Sword Dance