The cancan is a French dance that originated in the 1830s as a ballroom dance for couples and evolved into a music hall number performed by female dancers. It is characterized by acrobatic leg movements and is traditionally performed to Jacques Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld. The dance became associated with female performers and some became well-paid celebrities. In the 20th century, it became a highly choreographed number for a chorus line. The most well-known version today is the fin de siecle costume with flamboyant movements and loud trills and shouts.
The cancan is a dance in 2/4 time that originated in France around 1830. Over the years, it has developed from a ballroom dance for couples to a music hall number performed by a chorus of female dancers. Today the cancan is associated with the style of 1890s cabarets such as the Moulin Rouge. Cancan dancers usually wear full skirts with petticoats, high-heeled boots, and black stockings. The dance is traditionally performed at the Galop Infernal by Jacques Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld.
The cancan is characterized by acrobatic and provocative leg movements, such as the high kick and the leg-up ronde de jambe. The name of the dance translates as “scandal” or “chatter”. In its original form, the cancan could be described as a fast galop. It was first danced by couples in working-class ballrooms.
Professional cancan artists began appearing in the 1840s. There were some male performers of the dance, but many more females and, by the end of the century, it had become exclusively associated with female performers. Furthermore, some cancan dancers of the 1840s became well-paid celebrities, whereas in the early days of the dance, the performers had been semi-professional, part-time performers, many of whom were courtesans. La Goulue and Jane Avril of the Moulin Rouge, immortalized by artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, were among the most celebrated cancan dancers of the 1890s. They helped develop many of the steps that are the basis of the dance form today.
After the turn of the 20th century, the cancan underwent another change, becoming a highly choreographed number for a chorus line. This style of cancan originated abroad in Great Britain and the United States, but French dancers soon performed it for tourists. The Moulin Rouge, which had showcased solo cancan stars in the 1920s, was a venue for performances of chorus lines in the 1890s.
The cancan chorus line in fin de siecle costume is the version best known today. He often references the roots of dance through the turbulence of the performance. The dancers typically accompany their defiant movements with loud trills and shouts, and flamboyant movements such as chariot wheeling and flying splits are sometimes incorporated.