The Can Can was a popular music hall dance in France during the 1840s, with its vigorous twirling of skirts and high kicks. High energy and physically demanding, it was the talk of the French cabaret a scandalous association given the modest nature of society at the time. Both men and women danced it, but because of the high kicks, splits and cartwheels, the possibility of revealing a women’s pantalette was provocative and inappropriate. In certain instances, there were a few dancers of the Can Can that were arrested for performing, despite the dance never being officially banned. Performed most famously at the Moulin Rouge, a few men became Can Can stars, but the dance is more widely recognized as being danced by women, often seen danced in chorus lines. In the 1890s one could make a decent living dancing Can Can. Some of the Moulin Rouge favorites were Valentin le Désossé and his frequent partner La Goulue.
Positions and Kicks
To start a Can Can stand with at least 5 people standing side by side, to form a line. Lay your hands on the shoulders of the people on either side of you. Kick your legs in unison to the beat. These kicks can be as remedial or as complicated as the choreographer wishes. The pace is often quite fast. The most basic of moves is to kick up the knee bring leg foot back to the floor and then do a straight leg kick.
Splits and Cartwheels
There are also the splits and cartwheels incorporated into the performance. One of the crowd-favorite ending moves was a sweep to the side leg kick that slides down into the splits.
The music was first danced to Galop or Quadrille music. Both popular dances in the 19th century. Jaques Offenbach composed a song specifically for the can can—“Orpheus in the Underworld Overture,” which became the most recognizable Can Can song. Inspiring other composers such as Aram Khachaturian and Franz Lehár, and artists from Picasso to Toulouse-Lautrec. There have even been movies and operettas inspired by this dance. The Merry Widow in 1905, and Moulin Rouge in 1952 and again in 2001.
The Can Can, though risqué, has been of the most celebrated dances in the world of dance.
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