The Addiscombe Fan Dance

By - Tuesday 29th September, 2015

Andy Ellis explains the strange whooshing noises coming from Addiscombe

If you are crossing Ashburton Park on a Saturday afternoon you might hear a curious rasping noise.

Following the sound to its source in the shadow of the old library building, you realise that it comes from bright red silk fans opening and closing in unison as they are wielded by half a dozen or so people moving in something like a slow line dance.

What you are seeing an art called ‘Sensu’ being practiced by members from the Addiscombe based ‘Body Harmony’ organisation under the guidance of teacher Keith Nicholas.

Photo author’s own.

Sensu is both the word for a type of Japanese folding fan and also for a slow choreographed dance form reminiscent of Tai Chi.

Croydon is one of the few places in the UK where Sensu is practiced – or indeed even known about.

Occasional performances have taken place in recent years at Purley Festival and Addiscombe Carnival. Indeed it has been humorously dubbed the ‘Addiscombe Fan Dance’.

Sensu is not the only art in evidence on a Saturday afternoon. Keith has been teaching martial arts in Croydon for over three decades and this is reflected in some of the exercises.

There is a “kata” (sequence of martial arts movements) using the tanbo, a short wooden staff around 18″ long which dates from feudal times in Japan. Although this is a weapon, the aim is to promote good posture, balance and breathing rather than deployment in a combat situation.

Photo author’s own.

Another weapon is the jo. This is a staff, traditionally made from red oak, 50″ in length with the approximate diameter of a broomstick. The jo dates from 17th century Japan but its origins are vague. A popular theory is that the jo was a ‘peasant’ weapon from medieval times when only the samurai were permitted to carry swords.

The jo appears in several martial arts but here in the park it is features in a sequence known as the Five Element Kata. Although strikes, thrusts and blocks are evident amongst the movements, these smoothly and gently combine into a slow, graceful, indeed meditational, exercise to which the term ‘martial yoga’ is well suited.

Saturday afternoon sessions during October are from  4:00pm to 6:00pm (weather permitting), then 2pm to 4pm from November onwards.There is no charge and all are welcome regardless of age, ability or infirmity.

Body Harmony also has a class at the Sir Philip Game centre in Addiscombe every Tuesday morning from 10 to 11. This is a mixture of gentle exercises overlapping with yoga, pilates and – echoing the Saturday sessions – movements from the martial arts. It is aimed at senior members of the community though several thirtysomethings also attend. Cost is £5 but Keith takes no money for himself and instead donates the proceeds to the Sir Philip Game youth charity.

For more information on Body Harmony sessions, contact Keith on 0208 656 2181 or at

Andy Ellis

Andy Ellis

Descendant of an old Devonshire family, Andy has spent over 25 years of his life in Croydon. He runs a small computer business, is a student at Seishin Ryu Aikido, helps to teach the Body Harmony community fitness classes held in several libraries across the town and, last but not least, dances with the Purley-based North Wood Morris Men.

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  • Anne Giles

    It is lovely to watch.

  • Andy Ellis

    Bit up an update. For the next few weeks Saturday sessions are 4 to 6. Latest information available at

  • PolarDog

    Saturday sessions are now from 1 to 3