|Modern can-can dancers via Pinterest|
Originally, the dance was done by large numbers of men at dance halls. As performers of the dance became more skilled, the can-can graduated from being a dance performed by couples, to a participatory form of entertainment done in dance halls. It wasn't until the 1860s to 1870s however, that it became more popularized by women and was developed into a dance for a single chorus line.
Many of these women were middle-class courtesans and semi-professional entertainers during these early years. During the 1890s though, professionals emerged, such as Jane Avril and La Goulue, who were well paid for performances at particular venues. The most well-known of these venues is the Moulin Rouge.
|Moulin Rouge 1900 via Wikipedia|
Toulouse-Lautrec was a frequent visitor to the Moulin, and created paintings and posters for the dance hall and of the dancers who worked there.
|Moulin Rouge: La Goulue (1891)|
|Jane Avril Dancing (1892)|
|The dancer La Goulue|
The high kicks and dance steps would require the dancers to lift their skirts and then flashes of leg in the contrasting stockings could be seen underneath. Some of the dancers would even bend over and throw their skirts over their backs, presenting their bottom to the audience.
|Image via Pinterest|
* * *This short history is conglomerated together through different Websites I read through while trying to find more info. I do not know how much is fact vs. fiction, but I hope this provides a little enlightenment on the subject.