Monday, September 15, 2014

Short History of Can-can

As I've been working on my dresses, my interest has been piqued in where the original dance came from, so I've been doing a bit of research.
Modern can-can dancers via Pinterest
The can-can first appeared around the 1830s, originating from a form of the galop dance, which was actually danced by couples. The galop is a fast dance. Named after the gait of a horse, it is done in a fast 2/4 time. During the dance, couples would perform high kicks and gestures with their arms and legs. Because of this, couples were brought in close contact with each other - closer than what was deemed "acceptable" by Victorian standards - lending to its scandalous origins.
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
Established in 1889, the Moulin Rouge is best known for being the birthplace of the modern can-can dance. The Moulin had many visitors, including the Prince of Wales (future King Edward VII) in 1890 and the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

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)
Much of what we know about the can-can, with it's highly choreographed dance steps and high kicks, was developed more recently. This highly stylized French version of the can-can lasts about ten minutes and involves the high kick or battement, the ronde de jambe (quick rotary movements of the lower leg with the knee raised and the skirt held up), the port d'armes (turning on one leg while grasping the other), the cartwheel, and the grand ecart (the flying or jump splits). The authentic quadrille-based can-can is very demanding in its moves and performers must have good stamina, rhythm, and balance.
The dancer La Goulue
Part of the can-can's erotic history (aside from Victorian couples standing WAY to close together) stems from the attire the women wore. The most popular costume of the can-can dancer was the wide, circular skirt with layers of frilled ruffles underneath. These ruffles were supposed to simulate the layers of petticoats usually seen underneath women's dresses and skirts of the time period. Underneath, the dancers would wear black stockings and shorter drawers.

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
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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.

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