Sally Rand Fans are an amazing prop for dancers- they’re gorgeous, lush, theatrical fans, made of ostrich plumes, and they look simply incredible onstage. They convey the glamour of a bygone era, and wow audiences with their stately, sensuous beauty. They’ve been a staple in burlesque and showgirl performances for decades, and have also become hugely popular with belly dancers in the last decade or so. Mounted on strong plastic, Lucite, wooden or bamboo staves, these fans will open and close fairly easily, but still will not snap open the way smaller fans do because of the bulk of the feathers plumes.
For beginners, using Sally Rand fans will take a bit of getting used to because on the type with Lucite or plastic staves, the butt-end of the fan is very thick. The staves are usually divided by metal or plastic washers, which enable the staves- mounted with bulky feather plumes- to open and close properly.
These beauties can have a single row of feathers, or can be layered with up to four or five rows of large ostrich plumes. Because of the relative heaviness of the staves themselves, the large circumference (or “wing span”) plus the bulk and weight of the plumes, these fans can be difficult to handle at first, and you will definitely have to build up strength in your arms and shoulders.
If you’re new to working with Sally Rand fans, there are many on the market to choose from. All sorts of Sally Rand fans can be purchased on eBay, and lots of them are from China. The quality of the Chinese fans is usually very good, and the prices are amazing. I got a few sets when I was performing in Hong Kong, and they’re all amazing.
However…The less expensive fans might be very costly to ship for Asia- makes sure to read the fine print… And also be sure that the price includes a pair of fans, not just a single fan!
While professional or experienced dancers usually agree that “bigger is better”, if you’re just starting out with Sally Rand fans, the larger ones might be almost overwhelming to you, size-wise and strength-wise. Even for taller gals, the smaller or “petite sized” Sally Rand fans still look impressive; they’re a lot easier to handle and they are much more convenient to store and travel with!
Speaking of travel, a good way to transport your fans to gigs , or even for checked luggage on a plane, is to use a sturdy, large document tube. These can be purchased at office or art supply stores, and will protect your fans in transit. I use them all the time, and have never had to replace even one of them. The document tubes, depending on circumference, will hold a pair of fans easily, and the smaller sizes will fit into most standard suitcases ( though not carry-on sized) as well.
To store ostrich plume fans, I use a large, tight-locking plastic container, wrap the fans in plastic dry cleaning bags, and throw in a handful of cedar chips to keep the moths away.
Also, it’s really worth spending the extra money that may be charged for male plumes. As with most species of birds, the male ostrich plumes are far more lush and thick than the female plumes. Even if you’re using smaller-sized Sally Rand fans, the thicker male plumage will make the fans look rich and impressive.
Before you purchase your fans, check the sizes of the height and spread. If the sizes aren’t listed on the website, don’t bother purchasing- you don’t want to wind up with a tiny set of hand fans!
Another good thing to know is that your computer monitor might display the color of the feathers significantly darker or lighter than the way they will appear in person.
Making your own Sally Rand fans from a kit might seem more cost-effective, but if you're not a crafty type gal, spending a few extra bucks on already assembled fans will probably be worth the money...and the hours you spend getting frustrated trying to put the fans together on your own!
And again, whether you’re purchasing fans domestically or from overseas, check on the prices for shipping! As I said before, even the smaller fans are still pretty large, and no matter what size you get, the shipping package will not be a standard size!
Before you practice or perform with any sort of fans – but especially Sally Rand fans--make sure to do a complete warm up of the hands, wrists, arms and shoulders, along with the rest of your warm up.
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