Nalfein Fans, Fan-Dancing and Fanspeak

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Nalfein Fans, Fan-Dancing and Fanspeak is an Official GemStone IV Document, and it is protected from editing.

An Introduction to Nalfein Fans, Fan-Dancing and Fanspeak

by Althiza Amalathia Illistim

My family's unique connections with a certain prominent Nalfein household enabled me, as a young woman, to be fostered in Ta'Nalfein to learn the arts of being a lady. The Nalfein are famed for their many secrets, and in truth, I have seen this stereotype born out with my own eyes. Many of them will keep a seemingly inconsequential secret for the sheer joy of it, which was very frustrating as I tried to carry out the Illistim tradition of study and research. However, I was lucky, and the head of my host family encouraged my curiosity and answered most of my questions with amused frankness. It is with this background that I am able to record and reveal many of the customs surrounding that most ubiquitous lady's accessory: the Nalfein fan.

The General Background of the Nalfein Fan

A young Nalfein girl always gets her first fan from the hands of her mother or other close, older female relative if the mother is unavailable. Although fans may be passed down through a bloodline as heirlooms, these first fans are always made new for the young lady, a symbol of who she is and who she will come to be. With this first fan, the young lady may learn several things - how to communicate, how to protect herself, and how to dance. A Nalfein lady would no more be without a fan than she would be without shoes, so it is a convenient tool for any occasion.

A lady will use her fan for communications of all sorts, from communicating secrets to flirtations. The subtlety in such movements is all in the skill of the lady and her intentions. In the hands of the most elegant of women, the fan will seem as delicate and light as a butterfly's wing, but laden with meaning at every moment.

In addition to the communicative aspect of the fan, it is also a tool to be feared. Traditionally, all the fans are bladed, every slat sharpened and pointed at the tips like daggers. In other styles of fans, some slats may be hollow so as to allow a stiletto or misericord to be hidden within. The weight of the fan, with its many blades, can be surprising to the uninitiated.

The fan is the ultimate lady's weapon, an item no woman would be without in the Nalfein court. It is so a part of a Nalfein lady, that despite a history of assassination attempts - and successes - in the city-state, all women are allowed to carry their fans even in the presence of the monarch.

Here, I record the fruits of my labor among the Nalfein, a small treatise on fan-dancing and fanspeak. Alas, my time in Ta'Nalfein was limited, and I was unable to learn how to wield the bladed fan itself as a weapon, but I have hope of yet returning there to further my studies.


The Purpose of the Nalfein Fan-Dance

Those familiar with Erithian fan-dances will know that the themes are varying, most often dealing with nature, but linear stories are told as well. Not so with the Nalfein. Nature does often play a part, but it is a background for the primary purpose of the dance, which is a showcase for the fan-dancer's skill. The emphasis is on perfect execution of movements that might sever the woman's fingers or worse should a mistake be made. The blades of the fan require careful and skilled handling. A lady who can competently wield the Nalfein fan, making it look effortless and perfectly poised, is highly sought after in all things as her handling of the fan is believed to be a reflection of her skill in all the little subtleties that make up Nalfein court life.

The movements of a traditional Nalfein fan-dance are at once sharp and graceful, much like the Nalfein ladies themselves, some would say.

The Form of the Nalfein Fan-Dance

Acrobatics are often involved, and the fan spends much of the time flying through the air in displays of precision catching and tossing. A lady need not be restrained to just one fan, either. With every new fan a lady uses in her dance, she will gain that much more respect from her audience. More fans mean more opportunity for harm to the dancer, and unscathed survival shows the lady's finesse. A true, rare artist will wield as many as four fans at once.

Sharp sounds frequently accompany the dance. The tap of her feet, the quick, snapping closure of her fan - they are all punctuations in the dance. Most dances carry a percussive rhythm, either quick or stately, which is why the instrument of choice to accompany the dance is the drum, although not all dances have accompaniment. Sometimes, the lady must make and keep her own rhythm, just another facet of the dance designed to demonstrate the lady's control.

Additionally, the dancer can be accompanied by a singer. This is particularly true of the dances, few though they may be, that illustrate a linear story.

Women do not always dance alone. In fact, they often band together in groups, companies, for the fan-dances. This adds yet another element of danger in an already precarious practice, for other women can become opponents in the dance. Some groups of women perform together because they trust each other. Others will try to show each other up. If one lady falls, and another remains standing, the latter is deemed the better, more graceful woman.

Who Dances?

Fan-dancing is widely regarded as a woman's art among the Nalfein, although a discerning Nalfein gentleman will always be able to recognize skill in a lady. Among women, fan-dancing is at once the province of the nobility and also not. All noble girls are virtually guaranteed to be of at least intermediary skill. It is like other cultures learning table manners, just another completely accepted facet of training.

Outside of the nobility, it becomes a question of access. If a girl can afford a fan, and most can as it is such an essential part of life, then she may be taught the basics by some family matriarch or other, if they have had the tradition handed down to them.

Noblewomen are not exactly encouraged to become professionals but they are not barred from it. If they show extreme skill in the art, and they are not the only daughter of the family, then they may be permitted to study. Since it is so rare for elves to have a surplus of children of either gender, though, it is not the usual. After the woman has progressed to autonomy away from her family, either into marriage or some other role, she may decide to return to the dance as a hobby or not.

Commoners are oddly freer to study the art, should they be given the access to it, than the aristocracy. It is a way for them to reach above the station they were born to, for especially skilled practitioners can be recognized and rewarded by monarchs.

Courtesans, noble or otherwise, are taught this skill as a matter of course. There is relatively very little stigma attached to being a courtesan in Ta'Nalfein, and many of them are prominent dancers. Their profession demands delicacy, precision, discretion and a certain mental balance which can be mirrored in the dance. It is used in attracting and entertaining clients.

Traditional Fan-Dancing Costumes

Costuming varies between dances, depending on the dancer's skill and the theme of the dance itself. The most basic costume is the elven cotehardie, save the skirts are modified. Slashes divide the skirts all the way around from the hips downward, allowing for the billowy flutter of fabric and an extra measure of freedom of movement. Beneath this are either very loose trousers or tight, opaque leggings, depending on the exact nature of the dance being presented. The dances are performed in slippers with very thin soles so it feels as though the dancer is wearing nothing on her feet, and the pointy toes the elves are so fond of are cut down to a minimum as they could easily trip a dancer up at a crucial moment. More practiced dancers will add trailing sleeves and billowy skirts.

Beyond the traditional, the costume could be anything. There have been recent fashions for metal-plated wooden heels that create a more resounding rhythm as well as belled anklets.

Jewelry can carry a special significance. Professional dancers will wear jewels given by favored patrons or pieces that will accent their movements. Glittering rings and bangles for the wrists and ankles are the usual as they will highlight every move the lady makes. One famed and unusual dancer, the Lady Doonizel Ar'Vivalzed Nalfein, prefers draping hip-chains.

Nalfein Fanspeak

To begin with, there are certain things that must be made clear about Nalfein fanspeak. First of all, it is not completely universal. All of the prominent families, especially those with greater court connections, have their own phrases and motions. What would be the use of a secret language that any other woman, maybe an enemy, could understand? But there are phrases in common that can be used by all Nalfein women, and certain ones that even a male would know enough to read the meaning of. Nalfein in foreign courts generally use these common phrases amongst themselves, as few females outside of the Nalfein are taught fanspeak.

Unlike the language of flowers, which is generally used to convey feelings between lovers and friends, Nalfein fanspeak is mainly used for subterfuge. If one only had something innocent to say, why not say it some other way? So the majority of the meanings conveyed will be things you would not say out loud. Still, I have learned a few innocuous phrases here and there for general use.

Almost all the movements are designed to look unassuming, so that no one would be suspicious if the motion was made while in conversation out loud with someone else. They can all be made to look casual, as though the Nalfein were just playing with her fan. There are a few movements, however, that are very stark and made to be noticed. It is all in the skill of the fan-holder as to how subtle the fanspeak is.

Due to that, it is rare that fanspeak is incorporated into a fan-dance. There have been a couple of famous cases of spies conveying hidden information through their dances, but it is extremely rare. Imagine trying to tap your nose twice with a bladed fan and not gouging yourself in the face while dancing.

I have no doubt that the Nalfein will change their fanspeak the moment they discover that I have written and shared this document, but I hope it serves to interest others in this unique culture and forms a basis of understanding between us.

Expression Action
Ally Touch the open fan to your right cheekbone.
An ally is near Tap the closed fan against your nose.
An enemy is near Close the fan and lower it to your side, grasping it by the wrong end, and tap it against your thigh three times.
Arrange a distraction Flip your open fan in the air and catch it in the palm of your hand.
Be careful Tap the open fan to your nose.
Change the subject Hold the open fan horizontally and brush your pinky across all of the slats.
Come here Brush the open fan against the inside of your right arm.
Courtesan Slide the closed fan between your middle and ring fingers on the left hand. This can mean that you are a courtesan or that someone else is, depending on the context.
Enemy Close the fan and lower it to your side, grasping it by the wrong end.
Go away Brush the closed fan against the inside of your left arm.
He/she is lying Flick the closed fan down and brush your right wrist with the blades.
He/she is telling the truth Flick the closed fan down and brush your left wrist with the blades.
Help! Flick the open fan upwards.
Hurry Brush the open fan against the inside of your left arm.
I do not know Run the edge of your closed fan across underside of your left wrist.
I do not understand Turn your head to the right and run the tip of your closed fan along your left jawline.
I am lying Touch the tip of the closed fan to your lips.
I am telling the truth Touch the tip of the closed fan to the middle of your forehead.
I understand Touch the open fan to your right eyebrow.
Is he/she trustworthy/an ally? Touch the open fan to your left cheekbone.
Keep him/her busy Tap your fingertips along the edge of your closed fan, with the edges pointed towards the target.
Meet me tomorrow Trace with your fingertips the three innermost slats from the tips to the pivot point of the open fan.
Meet me tonight Trace with your fingertips the two innermost slats from the tips to the pivot point of the open fan.
Meet with me now Trace with your fingertip the center slat from the tip to the pivot point of the open fan.
No Flick the closed fan side to side.
Play along Fold your hands in front of you with the open fan covering your right hand.
Silence Hold your open fan over your right shoulder vertically, covering your right ear.
Thank you Tap the closed fan against your cheek.
Watch this Flick the closed fan upwards.
We are being overheard Flick the open fan down and brush your left wrist with it.
We are being watched Gently brush your right eyebrow with the tip of your closed fan.
What you are eating/drinking is poisoned Tap your closed fan against the front of your throat.
Who is listening/watching? Flick your index finger against the right most blade of your open fan.
Whom do you mean? Touch the closed fan to your left eyebrow.
Yes Flick the open fan side to side.
You have done the right thing Tuck the tip of your closed fan under your chin.
You must leave Brush your fingers along the closed fan.

Published on June 14, 2014.

Submitted by Wordsmith Lysistrata