In fan workshops, once we master some of the hand positions, we talk about the conceal/reveal opportunities afforded by fans. Although of course we play with the bigger ostrich feather fans, we also play with several different sizes and types of fans.

Dirty Martini's Fans
Above: Dirty Martini's fans backstage at Pinchbottom Burlesque. Photo by me.

Fan dancing has a history outside of burlesque fan-dancing, as well, and a search for "fan dance" on youtube locates videos featuring Asian and Spanish dances having nothing to do with burlesque, as well as bellydance videos. I've seen all these translated for a burlesque audience, as well as fire fans and fighting fans!

Fans also have a history having nothing to do with dance, and I've long been fascinated by The Language of the Fan, though I've never played with it onstage.

Pinchbottom once produced a show in which all the performers did a fan dance--and none of them did remotely the same thing. Little Brooklyn used big foam "number one fan" hands for her reveals and conceals, Nasty Canasta used a car alarm as her music, and I did my Planet of the Apes fan dance, where I start out as an ape and turn into the Statue of Liberty (although if I recall correctly I had some kind of prop malfunction that ended up in me just getting naked...ah well, not the last time THAT will happen!). But of course Dirty Martini represented the quintessential, classic fan dance.

Many of us in burlesque also have hand fans which trail long pieces of silk, sort of like poi fans, which I'll be carrying in the Mermaid Parade.

If you're feeling the fascination, you might be interested in The Fan Museum in Greenwich, London, which recently came up in my news feed because the description of their current exhibition mentions Dita Von Teese's "reveal and conceal."

Dita plays with some huge pheasant-feather fans.

This institution is "the only museum in the world devoted entirely to every aspect of fans and fan making." If I ever get across the pond, I must go!

Posted by Jo Weldon, Headmistress of The New York School of Burlesque, for


Please post photos from the Mermaid Parade! I am so sorry I won't be there this year!

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