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  • Writer's pictureYumi La Blanca

Abanico Flamenco - the conceptual breeze in dance, guitar and cajón

Summer is here, a hand fan would come handy in the hot weather. It can not only cool you down but also give you a fancy feel, especially if it is Spanish.

Hand fans

While many people would associate hand fans with China or Japan, this charming item actually has a long history in Europe as well, dating back to ancient Greece. However, the European version almost disappeared, until it was restored by the imports of Asian variations in the early modern period. Most of the hand fans as we currently see, therefore, are the types influenced by Eastern Asia.

By the 17th century, foldable hand fans gained popularity in Europe especially among the ladies of high statuses. It was believed that how you move the fan could convey some unspoken messages, especially in a secretly seductive way, but some say that such an invention of ‘fan languages’ was a mere marketing strategy by the makers in the 19th century.

In Spain, the fan was given the name ‘Abanico’ and, for its mass production, they even established La Real Fábrica de Abanicos (The Royal Fan Factory) in Valencia in the late 18th century. Although this factory no longer exists, Valencia still remains the centrepoint of producing Spanish fans to this date, as well as Seville.

Abanico in dance

Despite the fact that fans are used in some Asian dances too, the most widely known image of ‘a dancer with a fan’ would probably be a female Spanish dancer.

In flamenco, Abanico often accompanies the palos such as Guajiras and Caracoles, as it helps to portray grace, elegance, femininity and even certain cheekiness. While there are some required techniques in the flamenco discipline (e.g. inward rotations of the wrist), each motion with the fan does not necessarily deliver fixed messages. A bailaora opens, closes, circulates the Abanico according to how she feels and how the music flows.

Baile por Guajira con abanico (Carmen Tort)

Abanico in guitar

This fun item has also influenced other elements of flamenco. In flamenco guitar, there is a technique called Abanico, and it is contestably thought to be a type of rasgueado, a collective name for right-hand strumming techniques with separated fingerings. For rasgueado in general, the guitarist flicks the right wrist when strumming the strings, imitating the motion of flicking a fan. Among other types, Abanico is supposed to be a version of triplet in which you upstroke with the thumb, downstroke with the middle finger then the thumb, making a series of trebles.

Técnica de guitarra flamenca: rasgueo: Ejercicios de abanico

However, one of the guitar instruction books I have says that ‘the fan rasgueado’ incorporates all four fingers and the thumb, meaning that it would be the thumb upstroke followed by the little, ring, middle, index fingers downstrokes in order. The book also adds that this technique is outdated, because three finger rasgueado is easier and more common now. Maybe there are some confusions in the technical terms among flamenco guitarists, or maybe this book is simply wrong… I do not know, but in any case, one thing is certain - Abanico spreads out in the discipline of flamenco guitar too.

Abanico in cajón

The current of air travels even further - Abanico also refers to a technique of cajón. It is rather similar to the four-finger rasgueado in the guitar book above, but instead of the thumb upstroke you bang the front surface with a loose fist, then finger-drum with four fingers like strumming the guitar. While this can add a nice crispy feel to the sound, you need to find a way not to hurt your hand…

(It seems other percussive tools also have Abanico techniques, but I will not dig in further here.)

How to play ‘Abanico’ and ‘Fandangos de Huelva’

Having waved baile, guitarra, cajón, the only area of flamenco which Abanico has not blown is cante, but let’s imagine this way - cante is also a form of air supply of artistic energy. Knowing its importance in flamenco, we could appreciate Abanico in any season.

Hand Fan


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