Dancing with Fan Veils
OK, so maybe I'm an old fogey - but I just don't like fan veils. Not because they're not traditional - although they are certainly not traditional in belly dance, because they're not even Middle Eastern! Belly dance fan veils have been borrowed lock, stock and barrel from Asian dances, first by tribal belly dancers in the 1990's, but now by the mainstream as well. (For a fascinating insight into the history of fan veils, read this article from MiddleEasternDance.net)
No, my objection is not about tradition, it's about the dancing.
It's true that when a belly dancer picks up any prop, she has to choreograph around it. The range of steps she can use is dictated by the prop, and is more limited than if she was dancing hands-free. A reasonable proportion of the routine must be centered around the "business" - showing off one's skill with the chosen item - otherwise, why bother using it? But if a dancer is using a veil, sword or even Isis wings, she always has the option to hold the prop still while she tackles more complex moves.
The trouble with fan veils is that you can't simply let them drop if you want to include a more complex dance sequence - you'll trip over them, for one thing! - so you really have to keep the silk tails moving most of the time. The result is that a belly dancer with fan veils spends a lot of time wafting or spinning around, and not a lot of time actually dancing.
Yes, I know it looks visually exciting - but the performance becomes all about admiring the movement of the fabric, not the movement of the performer. The routine displays the dancer's ability to control the prop, and not her ability to dance!
And that's why I dislike them.
- If the dancer is an experienced professional, I feel I'm not getting to see her beautiful dancing.
- If it's a student troupe, I'm left with the suspicion they're covering up their lack of talent by using such distracting props.
- If I'm the one holding the fans, I keep thinking I'd rather express the music properly, instead of running around flapping my arms...
Fan veils make a striking entrance to a cabaret performance - it's a great way to drag the audience's attention away from their meals (as are more traditional props like isis wings or sword). And as part of a longer show, they can provide a dramatic highlight. But the increasing tendency to use them for stand-alone routines just leaves me yawning!
If you're a "fan veil fan" (sorry, couldn't resist!), and you're spluttering in indignation, can I ask you to try something? Try dancing your choreography without the fan veils. You may be surprised how boring the routine is, when done unadorned. Dancing is about the body in motion, not material in motion!