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The History of the Fan Dance

Fan dancer
dancing doll image by timur1970 from Fotolia.com

Fan dancing is a popular form of dance that has a historical Asian background dating back hundreds of years. The dance is now popular around the world and became famous in America in the early to mid 1900s.


In Japan, the hand-held fan was a profound part of the Japanese culture. The held-hand fans were initially created to induce airflow to the aristocrats for cooling off and refreshment. They were designed with paper or feathers and a thin material that was mounted on slats. The fans symbolized friendship and respect towards one another until a new purpose for the fans emerged--fan dancing.

Japanese Fan Dance

Several hundred years ago during the reign of Emperor Jimmu, the Japanese fan dance was choreographed for private performances and to highlight the unique work of the fan. The prop of the fan added to the effect of the Japanese hairstyles and bold makeup. Originally, the steps of the choreographed dance were slow, deliberate and suggestive. It was always danced to a live accompaniment of musicians.

Symbols and Occasions

Japanese fan dancing was a symbol of social status. Hinoki and Japanese cypress were used in accordance with a person's rank. Fan dancing was featured at special occasions such as parties and weddings, and Japanese craftsmen would design the fans with ivory, mother of pearl and sandalwood. Depending on the social significance, different fans would be used to suit the specifications of the choreography and the importance of the given occasion.

American Fan Dance

Fan dancing became popular in America during the 1930s when Sally Rand's dances financially saved the fair at Chicago's Century of Progress Exposition in 1933. Rand was an Acrobatic dancer from Hollywood who had made over 20 silent films.

American Fan Dancing Outfits

The American Burlesque term "fan" evolved later in the 1930s. This form of fan dancing exposed the movements of huge Ostrich plumes (or feathers) that the dancer would use in an artistic way. This dance was typically but not always performed nude, and would be considered Burlesque dancing.

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