• Freddie Brock

Dance Tidbits: Can-Can Dance

Updated: May 28



You may not have heard or know of the Can-Can but I bet you have heard the famous music that almost always accompanies the Can-Can and that is Jacques Offenbach’s ‘Galop Infernal’.  It is often the theme when acrobats and jugglers perform in circuses and on stages alike.

The Can-Can is a high energy, physically demanding dance hall type dance.  The Can-Can first appeared in working-class ballrooms in Paris around 1830.  Mainly, it is performed by a chorus line of female dancers.  Typically,  costumes consist of long skirts, petticoats and black stockings.  The main  characteristics of the dance are the lifting and manipulation of the skirts with high kicking, provocative body movements.


Originally the Can-Can was a couples dance, complete with high kicks and other gestures with arms and legs.  Many say it was the invention of entertainer Charles Mazurier in the late 1820s who was famous for his acrobatic performances with outrageous grand ecart or jump splits.  The original title for Can-Can was ‘tittle tattle’ or ‘scandal’.

The Can-Can even has another alternative name, which is chahut meaning noise or uproar in French.  You could say that the Can-Can was the rebellious dance of Paris in the 1800s when rowdy groups of mostly male students attempted the high kicks and other athletic feats in public dance halls.  Despite attempts to repress the dance craze, it gradually became a stage performance. The distinctive steps were refined by exotic female dancers.


It was the British and American dance halls, however, that created the choreographed chorus line style we know today and who provided the essential ingredients for the dance made famous at the Moulin Rouge in Paris.

The Moulin Rouge is best known as the original birthplace of the modern form of the Can-Can dance.  The Can-Can dance revue evolved into a form of entertainment that led to the introduction of cabarets across Europe.  You may have seen the paintings of the very famous and brilliant French painter, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.  He has done many paintings of both the Moulin Rouge and Can-Can dancers definitely capturing the essence of this famous era.

Today, the Moulin Rouge is a tourist attraction offering musical dance entertainment for visitors around the world.  The club’s décor still contains much of the romance of the original setting in the early 1900s.

My personal ‘thank you’ to Marilyn Fordney for her inspiration and assistance in writing  this blog with me.

Happy dancing,

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