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Secrets of the Fan

By Leonardo Rosen

One of the woman’s adornments very emblematic of the danzón is the fan (in Spanish, el abanico). In this, the danzón is different from other dances like the tango or salsa where the woman does not use a fan. When properly exhibited, it enhances the beauty and elegance of the danzonera (woman danzón dancer).

El Danzón y Otros Ritmos Bailables con el Club de Danzón Mercerina
Sun, Nov 9, 5-8pm
Jardín Principal

The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used fans. These were large and mounted on poles. Slaves moved them with the purpose of keeping their masters and mistresses cool and unbothered by insects. In the very early Roman Catholic Church, they were used to keep the priest cool and insects away from the Holy Eucharist.

Even the smaller hand-held fan is of millennial age. It is thought to be a Chinese and/or Japanese invention. An apocryphal story is that a Japanese artisan was inspired by the wings of bats to make a hand-held fan. In China; the fan was a symbol of authority. In Japan, it became an indispensable part of a woman’s attire.

In the trade and commerce between the Occident and the Orient, especially via the ships of Portugal and Spain in the 15th century, the hand-held fan arrived in Europe and was adopted by women in a number of countries. It also might have reached Spain from not- so-distant Islamic countries. Spain brought it to its colonies in the New World. In 1521, Hernán Cortés and his men noted that the emissaries of the Aztec emperor, Moctezuma, carried with them large fans.

Let us leap ahead in time. It is generally accepted, though not absolutely correct, that the first danzón made its appearance in 1879 in Matanzas, Cuba. In another year or so, it made its way to the Yucatán Peninsula in México. The hand-held fan had already been part of the culture of Cuban and Mexican women for a very long time. They had used it in dances that preceded the danzón, and there was no good reason not to continue.

Did you know that the fan has its own secret language? Just with subtle manipulations of her fan, a woman might communicate to a man, “I like you,” or “I’m married,” or “I’m married, but I like you anyway.”  She can do this without uttering a single word. Of course, this only works if the man also understands the secrets of the fan. If you want to learn this language, just Google it on the Internet.

In another article, I’ll describe the proper use of the fan in the danzón. For now, I invite you to “El Danzón y Otros Ritmos Bailables con el Club de Danzón Mercerina” on Sunday, November 9, in the Jardín, 5-8pm. Admission is free. For information, please call 152-6385 (Educación y Cultura) or 154-5840 (Leonardo Rosen). We’ve got the best Latin music for your dancing pleasure. El abanico lo dice todo.


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