Dan: the Female Role in Beijing Opera
The Dan (Tan) or female role can be divided into six main parts which principally indicate character; Qing Yi(Ch'ing I), modest and virtuous; Hua dan(Hua tan) flirtatious; Gui Men Dan(Kuei Men Tan), a young, married girl; Dao Ma Dan(Tao Ma Tan), a stronger, more forceful character, usually a woman general; Wu Dan(Wu Tan), the female acrobat; and Lao Dan(Lao Tan), an old woman.
A Qing Yi actress portrays a lady of good and sympathetic character Usually of a quiet, gentle disposition and graceful in her movements, she is the Chinese ideal of a beautiful woman. As a wife she is faithful, as a young girl a model of propriety. Her good breeding is shown by the graceful, flowing movements of her 'water sleeves'. The Qing Yi's costume is elegant, simple and of good quality, but not as vivid in color as that of the Hua Dan. Her singing is of a pure, high-pitched quality.
For a Hua Dan actress the gay, flirtatious personality of a young girl is required. Usually not of such a high social standing as the Qing Yi, the Hua Dan actress with her coy, coquettish and generally quicker movements arrests the attention of the audience. This is a difficult part to play successfully. The Hua Dan's facial expression is continually changing and her mischievous eye movements are particularly attractive. Because of her lower social status more hand movements are required, as in olden times it was not considered polite for a well-bred Chinese lady to show her hands. Costume, usually vivid in design and color, consists of a jacket and trousers, and a red or coloews handkerchief is carried to flutter in the actress's hand. Her character, needless to say, is not as virtuous as that of the Qing Yi and therefore her singing voice has a gayer and slightly stronger quality. She also has to do more speaking than singing.
A Gui Men Dan is the young, unmarried girl, who in later life will develop into a Qing Yi or a Hua Dan; her immaturity is clearly shown in her reactions, for though naughty and slightly mischievous, she has not the confidence of the Hua Dan, although her schemes and plans are often just as successful.
A Dao Ma Dan plays the part of the female warrior. She is trained mainly for acting and singing and performs many skilful movements especially with the pheasant feathers in her head-dress and her military weapons. She still retains feminine charm, however, and a very versatile actress is required for this role. Her parts, such as that of Mu Gui Ying, are of the heroines in Chinese history who were famed for their military prowess. A Dao Ma Dan's clothes can be very elaborate, as she wears the four pennants strapped to her back and the Kao
A Wu Dan is the female acrobatic role and the Wu Dan actress steps into or takes any female role that requires a high degree of acrobatics. She is purely an acrobat but her role demands a talented actress for a successful performance.
A Lao Dan is simply an old woman, but great skill is required for this specilized part. The Lao Dan actress cleverly portrays in her bent back and faltering but dignified movements her character's advancing years. She is often seen carrying a staff. Unlike the other female roles, the Lao Dan wears no make-up and her costume is more subdued in color and design. Her voice tends to be slightly deeper, because the natural voice is used, not the forced high-pitched one used on other Dan roles.