The third part of the Essential Burlesque class taught us some isolations -- which is basically the art of moving one body part to highlight it when taking an article of clothing off -- and basic fan dance techniques. When I’m talking about fans here, I’m referring to large, feathered ones, and Jo brought out two sets of very large, ostrich feather fans, one in red and one in pink. She noted that she likes to curl the ends of the feathers because they have a nice look in performance.
Each of us were given a set of small marabou fans in bright colors (I jumped for purple ones, of course), and after Jo asked us whether we’d ever seen anyone fan dance, she then explained what it is to actually do it. It’s a routine which consists of concealing, concealing, concealing... then finally revealing. The idea is to reveal yourself in little bits, with the flutter of each fan until you are exposed in artistic and creative ways. It’s more of a series of poses, actually, because these ostrich fans are so large. It’s much harder than it seems; it’s easy to reveal yourself accidentally, between the staves of the fans or over the tips of the feathers.
The small practice marabou fans gave us an idea of the fluttering movement needed, with the flicking of the wrist, and also hand/finger placement to keep the fan open while moving it. Tricky. And it became painfully clear that it’s necessary to get right and left handed fans. Jo pointed out this difference, and holding a small, cheap, right-handed fan open in my left hand was certainly challenging. The moves seemed simple enough, and Jo was honest with us: she hates fan dancing. But it can be an impressive act in your arsenal of performance if you can do it well.
After showing us some basics with the small fans, Jo wanted each of us to come up front with her, solo, learn a move with the large ostrich fans in the mirror with her, then face the “audience” (fellow students) and perform it. Once facing my “audience,” I had no idea if what I was doing was right, but if the expressions on people’s faces were any indication, I wasn’t doing half bad. Of course, a lot of it was expressions of support and sympathy. I realized in that moment that once again, it would take practice, practice and more practice, and in the case of fan dancing, getting to know the “poses” that work. Meaning, memorizing how it feels in each pose -- the placement of my hand near the small of my back, for example -- to achieve the desired effect with the feathers.
It was facing the group with the fans that made me think again about whether I’ll actually get on stage and DO this. It’s one thing to think you might be able to do something, and in those private moments when you think you’re ballsy enough to do it, and another to actually DO IT.
There is so much work that goes into performing. And I’ve never performed before. Karaoke in front of drunken strangers doesn’t count.
Here's an example of fan dancing. This is Nasty Canasta, performing to a rather unique choice of "music"... (excuse the moron who blocks the camera with his head mid-way)