How to learn traditional japanese fan dancing

The History of the Japanese Fan Dance

By: Emma Murray Updated September 15, 2017

fan image by windzepher from

By: Emma Murray Updated September 15, 2017

The traditional Japanese fan dance is usually performed by a young woman, either singly or in a group of dancers. It involves using a hand-held fan as a prop. The dancers often wear brightly colored Japanese kimonos, and have elaborately arranged hair and bold make-up. Fan dancing involves slow, deliberate movements, figures and poses, which sometimes tell a story.


A traditional Japanese fan can be made from paper, feathers or thin material mounted on slats. Today, the fans used in fan dancing are usually made from paper, and are elaborately painted and folded. The fans must be made using a paper pivot attachment, a mechanism that allows the dancer to fold and open the fan with a single flick of the wrist, so that the fan may be easily folded and twirled in the movements of the dance. Fan dances are usually accompanied by traditional Japanese music.


The earliest recorded fan dances in Japan took place in 6th century AD, during the reign of Emperor Jimmu. Fan dancing was a dance of high social status, and only performed at court, among aristocrats. The dance would be accompanied by traditional Japanese music, and was often used to portray a story, as many of the gestures are symbolic. It was popular at court for many centuries and formed an integral part of celebrations, including coronations and marriage ceremonies.

Time Frame

The tradition of fan dancing continued throughout the imperial lineage. Traditional fan dancing can still be seen in Japan today, although it is no longer the dance of aristocrats. It is performed with hand-painted fans, usually made from paper, to the accompaniment of live music, often involving singing and the playing of a shamisen (a three-stringed instrument). Sometimes fan dancing is performed for western audiences with faster and showier choreography, accompanied by recorded music, but this is not traditional fan dancing.

Fan dancing was originally an aristocratic art form, and the fans themselves could be used as indicators of social status. The use of hinoku (Japanese cypress) in the decoration of fans was regulated according to the social standing of the fan's owner. Japanese craftsmen even made fans from ivory, mother-of-pearl and sandalwood for those of high rank. Today, Japanese fans no longer represent social significance, but they are symbolic of friendship or loyalty, and can be exchanged as signs of good will.

Popular Culture

Fan dancing forms a key part of representations of Japan in Western popular culture. In "The Mikado," a comic opera by Gilbert and Sullivan, a westernized version of fan dancing is performed both by the ladies of the chorus and by the heroine. "The Mikado" was first performed in London in 1885, and proved hugely popular. The 1999 Mike Leigh film, "Topsy Turvy," which tells the fictional story of the making of "The Mikado," focuses more than one scene on the importance of the fan dance in displaying the habits of aristocratic Japanese women. "Memoirs of a Geisha," a novel by Arthur Golden (published in 1997), devotes many pages to fan dancing and the significance of mastering the art of fan dancing when becoming, as a geisha must be, a truly accomplished woman.


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Writer Bio

Emma Murray has worked as a writer for the past four years, and is published in student, local, and national publications, including "The Isis Magazine," "The Evening Chronicle" and "The Sunday Times" Culture Section. She is a first class graduate in English language and literature from the University of Oxford.

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Japanese Dance, Kimono, and Folded Memories: The Dancing Fan

The dancer enters the stage slowly, her feet sliding across the polished wood of the stage. With silent, measured movements she opens her paper fan, one fold at a time, turns her back and waits for the strum of the shamisen to fill the theater. Holding her fan above her head with one hand, her other hand tucked into the armhole opening of her kimono, she slowly tilts her left shoulder down towards the stage and with nearly imperceptible movements turns her head to gaze behind her. The fan she holds aloft is a moon, a misty moon, the moon of a spring night. The dancer enacts the moment the woman, alone under the pale light of the spring moon, turns to catch her shadow. And now the dancer pulls her fan down as she twists to face the audience. The fan has become a mirror. The dancer mimes the woman gently touching her hair. The face in the mirror has aged.

Rebecca Copeland holding her prized dancing fan, Fukuoka, Japan, 1977

In Nihon buyō, or traditional Japanese dance, the fan is the most important accoutrement. It performs the roles of various objects, from the moon, to a mirror, to a sake cup. In some dances it is the sail of a boat, in others a fluttering cherry blossom. The fan creates the mood of the dance, the spirit, the elegance, and carries the emotion of the dancer. Throughout the dance the dancer may open the fan half way, all the way, or keep it closed. When a dancer first begins her lessons, her instructor, or sensei, provides her with a fan. My first fan was emblazoned with silver and gold cherry blossom petals on a bright red background. The dancing fan is made of thick paper attached to ten thin sticks, usually bamboo, that are connected at the base with a pin or pivot. The fan is designed to open and close. My sensei taught me how to do so properly. “The outside sticks are known as our parents. Hold one with the thumb and finger of your left hand while you push the other with your right.” It took me awhile before I got the hang of it.

I still have my first fan. The paper has grown soft in places, and the color has worn here and there. The folds that once were stiff are now pliable and easily fall open. This fan is one of my prized possessions. Like many things that have known the touch of human hands over the ages, the fan now embodies a tactile sense of memory. It carries with it the dance steps I have long forgotten.

The mai ōgi or dancing fan is treated with respect. It is only used for dancing and never for fanning—a fact I learned the hard way. (I learned a lot of facts the hard way in Japan. And by that I mean, I made the mistake of doing it wrong and was swiftly corrected.) When she is not dancing, a dancer carries her fan in the space between her obi and her kimono. Often she keeps the fan tucked inside a narrow carrying case made of silk. Before each lesson, the pupil kneels on the floor before the sensei and places the fan (folded) parallel to her knees—between herself and her sensei—and she bows.

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Fan dancing - grace of movement




| Folk dances

Dances of the peoples of the world

Fan dancing - the grace of movement

Beauty, individual style, originality - all these words are ideal for any dance style. During the existence of mankind, each nation, people, tribe has formed an individual culture. We will never confuse a tribal dance from the Philippine Islands with an English country dance, or an oriental belly dance with a Viennese waltz. But with all the colossal differences in each dance, there are similar elements that unite such dissimilar styles. nine0004

Dancing with a fan - the grace of movement


The fan appeared in ancient times. Its main purpose is to fan the face, necks, shoulders with fresh air. But over time, this simple device has become more widespread. Now the fan is widely used in dance, and thanks to this attribute, similar features can be traced in the dance styles of different peoples.

Fan as an attribute of the dance

There are Oriental, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish dances with fans. And this list goes on. Perhaps, in the dance culture of every nation there is a place for a fan. Differences exist only in size, design style and material of the fans. Fans are large and small, folding and unfolding, feather and fabric, one-color and multi-color. nine0004

Characteristic features of dancing with a fan

As a rule, the dance is performed with one fan, but depending on the idea of ​​the choreographer, there are cases of dancing with two fans. This is especially true for the culture of Japanese and Chinese dances. The movements of the dancers, depending on the installation of the choreographer and the style of dance, are different, but there are a number of features that are equally characteristic of all fan dances. The performers move smoothly, the movements are aimed at creating a beautiful, peaceful dance pattern. The dance with the fan strikes with its grace. nine0004

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Traditional Japanese dance: features and types

Graceful gestures, sliding movements, elegant kimono and a narrative hidden in every turn - this is how traditional Japanese dances can be described. Their development was intertwined with the No and Kabuki theaters, but over time, the dance art of Japan went its own way and absorbed new elements. How did it develop, on what principles was it built, and what roles did it play throughout Japanese history? We will tell you all the most important things you need to know about classical Japanese dances. nine0004

Dancing originated in Japan in ancient times. They were part of the daily life of the people: with ritual dances they sought to propitiate the gods, to please them; through them, people tried to convey their requests to them. Dance was a means of communication with the gods. Separate elements of these spell dances and prayer dances can still be found today in the so-called "classical" Japanese dances.

The first performance, which gave rise to both theater and dance art in Japan, is described in the mythological code "Kojiki". According to him, the first dance in the world was performed by the goddess Ame no Uzume. One day, the sun goddess Amaterasu hid from everyone, hiding in the Heavenly Grotto, and then the world plunged into darkness. To lure her back, the gods put on a show, supposedly welcoming the new goddess who was to take Amaterasu's place. Just then, Ame no Uzume began to dance, and her dance was so good that even Amaterasu could not resist and looked out to look at him. nine0004

It is believed that from the dance of Ame no Uzume came the genre of "kagura" - a dance and theatrical performance, which in ancient times was part of Shinto religious ceremonies. Even then, the dance began to be associated with something aesthetic and sacred. People believed that during the performance of kagura, miko priestesses could enter a trance and speak with the voices of the gods.

The Urayasu no Mai dance is a modern variation of the kagura

Dances in Japan have always had close ties with religious life and various temple festivities, but they have not only influenced the development dance genres. No less significant was the mutual influence of dance art and theater on each other. Drawing a clear line between classical Japanese dance and theatrical performance is a rather difficult task. The actors of the Noh and Kabuki theaters moved around the stage using special almost dance movements, and the dancers during their performances tried to tell a story with every gesture, often using auxiliary attributes and elements of pantomime for this. Even the terms "actor" and "dancer" are difficult to separate from each other when it comes to classical Japanese art. nine0004

When talking about traditional Japanese dances, the word 日本舞踊 nihon buyo is often used: . Although the term was coined only in the Meiji era (1868-1912), it encompasses the dances that are commonly referred to today as classical dances.

Nihon buyo developed from dances performed on stage, mainly from the repertoire of Noh and Kabuki theaters, which combined theatrical, dance and musical elements. Nihon buyo was started by kabuki actors and choreographers when they started opening schools and teaching dances to ordinary people. nine0004

The term nihon buyo itself is not so unambiguous: it can be used both in a broad sense, meaning any traditional Japanese dances, and in a narrow sense, referring to strictly defined genres, such as gigaku, kagura, bugaku, Noh and Kabuki dances. Within the framework of this article, we will be more inclined to a broad interpretation of the term and, in general, we will talk about popular Japanese dances that have come down to us through the centuries.

So, the concept 舞踊 buyo: combines two main directions of classical Japanese dances: 舞 Mai and 踊 odori .

Mai is a flowing, elegant dance that emphasizes hand movements. An important element of mai dances are revolutions and rotations. Their performance required a special stage, since the dancers had to slide easily on the surface to make smooth movements. For this reason, mai danced exclusively indoors or in specially prepared outdoor places. The Mai tradition has a very long history: most of the ancient Japanese religious dances and dances of the No theater belong to this direction, and for a long time it was Mai, the aristocratic and solemn side of the dance art, that was dominant. nine0004

Odori, on the other hand, is a dynamic dance that is characterized by jumping and varied foot movements. Odori was often performed by several dancers, and they did not even have to be professionals. In other words, odori, which for the most part did not require long years of training or a special stage, were more "folk". Today, however, dances dominated by odori elements are also considered a classic, valuable art. Part of the dances performed on the stage of the Kabuki theater just belonged to the odori direction. nine0004

Despite the seeming opposition of Mai and Odori trends, their construction is united by a key composition for almost all Japanese art. It consists of three consecutive elements:

1) jo "beginning" - introduction; usually in this part the actor only went on stage.

2) ha "destruction" - main part; in many cases it marks the beginning of the dance itself.

3) kyu: "suddenness" - denouement; the shortest part.

One can talk about the universality of the three-part structure for hours, because today it can be found both in a school essay and in the script of a world film masterpiece. However, in Japanese traditional arts, the jo-ha-kyu structure feels particularly comfortable. She obeys the composition of poetic works, and the tea ceremony, and the art of owning a kendo-jutsu sword, and theatrical performances of No and Kabuki. The principle of building jo-ha-kyu can be seen not only in individual dances, but also in each of their movements. nine0004

Another important element of classical Japanese dance is the 間 ma principle. Ma means a pause, a suspension of movement in the general rhythmic flow. The principle of ma was an extremely important component of Bugaku, an ancient (very ancient: it appeared in Japan already in the 8th century) theatrical-dance genre, and then was adapted by later dance forms, especially No.

Due to the relationship between dance and theater arts, nihon buyo has a strong narrative aspect. The costume, make-up and hairstyle tell the audience what story the actor is trying to tell with his dance. Within the framework of one dance, an actor can change his image several times, without changing his outfit in any way, and thus perform several roles at the same time. nine0004

A kimono, often multi-layered and bulky, gives a special grace to dances. Skillfully using long hem and sleeves is an important skill. During the dance, they become an extension of the actor's body. Another one auxiliary instrument in the dance can be a variety of props (miniature drums, tenugui towels, swords, and so on), of which the fan is the most popular. During the performance, it can turn into different objects or carry a metaphorical meaning, for example, indicate the emotional state of the hero. nine0004

Classical Japanese dance is also a significant physical activity. Moving from pose to pose, the dancer must always watch his body. He remains in one position for the most part and throughout the performance must be kept level, while the shoulders, hands, feet and head move freely in space.

Now that we've covered the basics of Japanese dance, let's take a closer look at a few notable dancers.

You can learn more about the traditions of kagura and bugaku dances, as well as the theatrical arts of Noh and Kabuki, in the relevant articles. Here we will consider other traditional dances that can be seen in Japan.

Kabuki buyo

One of the most famous styles in nihon buyo is kabuki buyo, or "dancing (from) Kabuki". This is the name of works that are performed as independent dance numbers, but were first performed as part of Kabuki plays. They are recognized as Intangible Cultural Assets of Japan. nine0004

The music accompanying kabuki buyo usually includes shamisen and percussion instruments such as tsuzumi drums. Also, along with the dance, a song sounds, the text of which the actor conveys with his gestures and movements.

Much attention in this direction is paid to costumes and makeup, although there are also dances performed in a simple kimono and without makeup. Such dances (they are called suodori ) are considered even more difficult, because during their performance the actor cannot rely on the power of the costume, wig and makeup - all movements and emotions shown through them are visible at a glance, therefore the actor is required to be especially precise and expressiveness. nine0004

A piece from the classic Kabuki play, The Maiden of Dojoji Temple (娘道成寺 Musume Do:jo:ji). Adapted from a play for the Noh Theatre. She reveals all the elegance of the dancer who plays the main role.

One of the most popular Kabuki dances, "Two Lions" (連獅子 Renjishi ), performed by MIYABIYA.

Nembutsu Odori

Nembutsu odori is a Buddhist religious dance that originated in the Heian period (794-1185) and became widespread during the Kamakura period (1185-1333). Nembutsu odori was a kind of prayer - in fact, its name literally means "dance-prayer" (念仏 nembutsu - Buddhist prayer, repetition of the name of Buddha Amida). It was performed during Buddhist ceremonies, in particular funerals, to pay respect to the dead. Drums or gongs are used during the dance, and prayers are often called out by the dancers. nine0004

It is said that the dance that gave birth to Kabuki theater was based on the movements of the nembutsu odori - it was danced in public by the priestess Izumo no Okuni, slightly modified for herself.

"Jangara nembutsu odori" is a type of nembutsu odori native to Iwaki city, Fukushima prefecture.

Bon Odori

Bon Odori is a dance performed during the O-Bon festival.

It is believed that he was closely related to the nembutsu odori and borrowed some elements from it. During the Muromachi period (1336–1573), bon odori gained popularity and was performed to greet spirits and express gratitude to ancestors during O-Bon. It is characterized by elements of a round dance and mass character, and today there are many variations of bon odori. nine0004

Also in our time, bon odori is associated with summer: again, because of its connection with the O-Bon holiday, which is celebrated in August.

Awa Odori

Awa Odori is a dance developed from Bon Odori. It is inextricably linked with one of the most crowded Japanese festivals, which has the same name as the dance itself - Awa Odori.

The awa odori dance has many varieties, but the characteristic features still remain in them. For example, the mass character (they perform the dance in large groups) and the fact that women and men dance different parties. An important attribute, as well as a symbol of both dance and the Awa Odori festival, is the oriamigasa straw hat worn by the dancers. nine0004

Dance has taken many forms throughout Japanese history. They were rituals, prayers, the art of the elite, the entertainment of commoners, were available only to the top of society and were an element of the most massive holidays in the country. They were a way to communicate with the gods and an opportunity to learn grace and grace. Today, they continue to change and develop, because under the influence of dance traditions from around the world, new dances continue to appear in Japan, connecting the traditions of Heian and Edo and newfangled trends. Let's see what amazing forms Japanese dances will take in the future! nine0004


日本 舞踊 と は か か 舞 舞 踊り 踊り ― ― ― ― ― ― ― 舞踊 と は?? 大流 派 特徴 や 起源 、 能 歌舞伎 と の 関係 解説

日本 と と は は は は は は は は は は は は は は は は は は は HIP

日本 大 百科全書 百科全書 「「 仏 踊 」解 説 説

日本 舞踊 舞踊 花柳凜 インタビュー インタビュー japan cool? dou (舞踊))

Artist Interview: The World of Rankoh Fujima.

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