Flirtation by Henri-Victor Lesur (1863-1927)
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
“Flirting is a woman’s trade, one must keep in practice.” ~ Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
From the 17th century on fans were used by both women and men to communicate. The Original Fanology or Ladies' Conversation Fan was published in 1797. It contained details about how to hold complete conversations through simple movements of a fan. Some common movements included: Drawing it across the cheek or placing the fan on the heart (I love you); Letting it rest on the right cheek (yes); Letting it rest on the left cheek (no); Dropping the fan (We will be friends); Drawing the fan across the eyes (I am sorry); Twirling it in right hand (I love another); and Carrying it in right hand in front of face (Follow me)!
Dancing has always provided opportunities for flirtation. Historically, though, off the dance floor, chaperoned ladies of the past had to rely on other covert and oblique methods of communication.
One of the more interesting flirtation devices was that of the language of the fan, a necessary accessory for cooling, and one that lent itself to coded message.
From The Language of the Fan:
For much of the nineteenth century and well into the early decades of the twentieth, women were expected to conduct themselves in an even-tempered manner. A woman’s deportment or behavior, especially in public was expected to be gracious, courteous, and respectable. Any demonstration of the contrary was frowned upon not only by parents and potential suitors, but from contemporaries, as well. Vocally rejecting a suitor was deplorable, even if a woman believed him to be unacceptable. Likewise flirting with a desirable suitor was equally appalling. So, while in attendance at a Ball or other social gathering, what was a woman do to when faced with numerous men, all vying for her attention; how was she to express or communicate her “choice” or “choices” without violating those stifling rules of etiquette? With visual clues, of course; although simply using facial expression was often too subtle. Therefore, the secret language of the hand-fan might be employed to clarify a woman’s acceptance or rejection of potential suitors:
The fan placed near the heart: “You have won my love.”
Resting the fan on the heart. “My love for you is breaking my heart.”
A closed fan touched to the right eye: “When may I be allowed to see you?”
Letting the fan rest on the right cheek: “Yes.”
Letting the fan rest on the left cheek: “No.”
Fan held over left ear: “I wish to get rid of you.”
Covering the left ear with an open fan: “Do not betray our secret.”
Fan opened wide: “Wait for me.”
Touching the finger to the tip of the fan: “I wish to speak with you.”
Half-opened fan pressed to the lips: “You may kiss me.”
Putting the fan handle to the lips: “Kiss me.”
Resting the fan on her lips: “I don’t trust you.”
Opening and closing the fan rapidly: “You are cruel”
Quickly and impetuously closing the fan: “I’m jealous.”
Drawing the fan through the hand: “I hate you!”
Fanning slowly: “I am married.”
Fanning quickly. “I am engaged.”
Hands clasped together holding an open fan: “Forgive me.”
Hiding the eyes behind an open fan: “I love you.”
Drawing the fan across the cheek: “I love you.”
Hitting her hand’s palm: “Love me.”
Hitting any object: “I’m impatient.”
Dropping the fan: “We will be friends.”
Dropping the fan: “I belong to you.”
Half-opening the fan over the face: “We are being watched.”
Twirling the fan in the left hand: “We are being watched.”
Twirling the fan in the right hand: “I love another.”
Passing the fan from hand to hand: “I see that you are looking at another woman.”
For more on fan language, click the flirtation advertisement by Alphonse Mucha c. 1900.
To see the video of this dance performed at the RSCDS 2014 Winter school, click below.