The art and tradition of the Chinese fan dance have captivated audiences for two thousand years. Just one of many forms of traditional folk dances, fan dances have been preserved to share the stories and beauty of Chinese culture.
While archaeologists have found pottery depicting Chinese folk dances dating from about 4000 to 2000 BC, the fan dance is believed to have begun during the Han dynasty. This dates the fan dance to around 200 AD. It was also during the Han dynasty that the first effort was made to collect and preserve the country's folk dances. Thankfully, this practice became important to following generations and folk dances of old are still shared today.
Chinese dance was divided into either civilian or military dance and their movements can vary based upon the classification. Civilian fan dances tend to be more flowing and detailed, celebrating grace and beauty. They derived from early dances celebrating the distribution of the food gathered from hunting and fishing; people would dance holding feathered banners. The military dancing was done with weapons, in coordinated group movements. This evolved into the movements used in military exercises.
Like most other forms of folk dance, the Chinese fan dance developed as a way to share stories, preserve the culture and to communicate feelings and emotions without words. This form of communication and preservation was vitally important to the Chinese, as dances were created even before written symbols. Chinese fan dances include a specific type of semantics, symbolism, vocabulary and structure so as to allow the dancer to communicate her intentions.
The fans are used to highlight the graceful movements of the dancers and as extensions of very delicate poses. They can be used as a sort of prop, representing a basket of food, a gift or a found treasure. The fans are made of a variety of materials including feathers, paper or bamboo and they reflect the highest level of craftsmanship and artistry.
Colorful costumes are typically used to enhance the beauty of the fan dance performance. Today, dancers may be dressed in traditional Chinese garments or in modern lyrical dresses or dance wear. If the dance is intended to tell a specific story, some dancers may be dressed differently from one another but all dancers in a group typically are costumed in the same garments.
J. Lynn Patten has her bachelor's degree in psychology from Central Michigan University and is working on her master's in drama from Texas Woman's University. She has worked with the young for more than eight years, in educational, social and artistic venues.