Shake a tail feather with Black Mariah
No need to post an emailed question this month because I have had DOZENS of emails from burlesque dancer wanting to purchase ostrich feather fans. I thought these emails came at a great time as I just purchased my third pair of ostrich feather fans, and let me tell you, I thought I knew everything about fans, and I did not. With that, let me educate all of you potential feather flaunters in how to purchase your first pair of fans wisely.
When I bought my first set of ostrich feather fans, there were only a few websites selling “Sally Rand” fans. I must have searched over a month before I settled on a fan vendor and sent my payment for my fans. When I received my fans from the company that shall not be names, I was incredibly disappointed. They weren’t nearly as full as they appeared in the picture, and they didn’t open up to even 45 degrees the fan staves were wooden but not painted to match the black feathers, just wood. I made the best with the purchase and went on to make a great number with them. I just chalked it up to a life lesson of “You get what you pay for”. The fans I purchased were really only about $120 less than the fans I COULD HAVE gotten from a competing company which I would have been extremely happy to have. I purchased a pair later from ostrich.com, but had bought the cheapest fans which were the full sized single layer fans. When I received them, I was not satisfied as they too were not as full as I thought they were, which was no fault of ostrich.com, as the pictures on the website accurately depicted the product. I just didn’t know any better. Here are the important details I wished I had known before I made both of those purchases.
1. Buy at least double layer fans — Ostrich feathers are thin and dainty quills. If you hold a large sized feather (the size used in feather fans) up, you can see through them. If you hold two together, one in front of the other, the objects behind the two feathers are hidden; hence your naughty bits will not be exposed. Triple layer is best, if you purchase fans with clear staves. The third layer is a short set of feathers set low on the staves, starting just about the connecting screw. The third layer actually covers the clear part of the bottom of the fan staves that would be a point of exposure. Some vendors also sell fans with colored staves, in which case the third layer would only be a preference and not a need.
2. Purchase pre assembled fans I am incredibly crafty and know my way around all of the tools in our garage. I would even go as far as to describe myself as the very definition of DIY. However adding a second layer of feathers to a set of white feather single layer fans was a very humbling experience. It took me three days of wrestling with wire, wire pliers, clamps and ostrich feathers which I might explain, do not like to lay flat- EVER. They rolled and moved, and caught the wind easily and slid out of there places. It was very difficult. The Ostrich.com website suggests that the approximate assembly time is 75 minutes per fan. I am pretty sure it took me much longer when dealing with two feathers per stave. The lesson here is that it is not NEARLY as easy as it sounds. The last purchase I made from ostrich.com, I purchased pre assembled. It was worth the extra charge to let a professional do it and make it look nice.
3. Wide open spaces Know the dimensions of your stage before you commit to using your fans in a show. A stage that is 10 ft wide is too small. Full sized fans should measure 30” from the anchor screw to the tip of the feather. My arm measure 25” from shoulder to thumb. In a full arm extension with one fan out to the side of your body, you would need 55” of clearance just to perform a basic extension swirl. That is 4.5 ft. So double that for the other fan on the opposite side of your body and that is 9 feet of space just to complete two arm extension swirls, leave one tiny foot of space for your body to move about. Constrained movement does not make for a beautiful fan dance.
4. Quality feather fans are made from male ostrich wings. Not until this fact was pointed out to me did I realize the stark difference between male and female feathers. Male feathers are the feathers used in the most beautiful fans. In the bird kingdom males have the ornate and brightly colored plumage, solely for courting and mating with females. Oh the irony that we humans are quite opposite. Male feathers will also bleach completely and thoroughly to a bright white. While female feather will bleach to white, they are likely to retain dark brown or black spots of color. I am not clear as to why, but the male feathers will bleach all the way to white. I looked at many websites offering “quality” feather fans at much more desirable prices. It was only now that I noticed phrases like “femina wing feathers” in the sales description. Be very diligent when you read the descriptions about a potential fan you would like to purchase. Remember that “you get what you pay for” and this phrase is incredibly true with fans. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Second hand fans are the exception to this rule.
5. Unique, like everyone else Ostrich feather fans are a beautiful, unique addition to your repertoire, however there is at least one fan dancer in every major city. In a festival, or competition setting, you can guarantee that most dancers will want to enter their fan dances, as it is no doubt their strongest, and the most glamorous of their routines. Imagine, one show getting auditions from 20 dancers, and 18 of them want to enter the show or competition with a fan dance! Understand that although you may have a unique routine, or feel your fan dance is worthy of a national level of performance, almost every dancer or troupe has a fan dancer, and they all feel the same way. You will be more likely to get a slot in a competition or festival showcase by submitting anything but a fan dance. In fact, as a rule across the board of performances, I would stray from entering ANYTHING that might be a commonly used song, or theme. (i.e. fans, cabaret chairs, top hat and cane, Sarah Palin, Little Red Riding hood)
6. Lessons and Practice A fan class from a professional or even a fan dance instructional video will do wonders for your technique, and give you a good set of basic fan dance skills to which you will have the tools to create unique moves and choreography on your own. You should work to develop your own style and personality with fans. After all, while you are concealing yourself with beautiful plumage, your feet and face have to make up for all of the body that you are not showing.
7. Choreography The internet has opened the doors for information to just appear right at our fingertips. It helps to watch as many fan videos as you possibly can. Some of the performances available for your viewing are simply amazing. You may be tempted yourself to utilize some of the moves or tricks you see in these videos. I have been asked if that was OK to do, and I warn all of you to tread this line carefully. “Moves” can be named but not copyrighted. Sets and combinations of moves in the order they were performed CAN be copyrighted and is definitely stealing choreography. If you are unsure, email the dancer and explain the move that you would like to use in your routine, and ask permission before busting a fan move out as your own. Many dancers are flattered for a newbie to love their creations, and don’t mind a bit if they are borrowed.
I personally use ostrich.com for my entire feather and fan needs. Cindy is the best and is the most personable customer service rep I have ever experienced. This company cares so much for their clients and it’s no surprise that much of their business is repeat customers. I have only received the best product from the company and have always been satisfied with my purchases. Ostrich.com has an incredibly diverse selection of fans in a huge budget range.
I know that many of the top performers and teachers also use featherstore.com in which you can find fans with colored staves.
A new feather fan designer here in Dallas by the name of Meleea’s bazaar shop creates custom fans for her customers and as I know a few dancers who have utilized her very talented fan making skills, they were very happy with their purchase from her. Meleea appears to serve much of the belly dance community so you may find other very unique items for your dances in her store!
Thanks so much for reading and if this article helped you in selecting your own fans, send us a picture!