The Pretty Little Horsebreakers

After writing my book on the cancan, imaginatively titled Cancan!, I often received invitations to speak on radio and TV about the dance. One of the most memorable occasions was on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour in 2008, where I had the honour to be interviewed by Jenni Murray. The occasion was the 150th anniversary of the first performance of the famous cancan music by Jacques Offenbach. As Jenni Murray put it in her introduction, the cancan is primarily regarded as a women’s dance, hence its inclusion in Woman’s Hour.

The Pretty Little Horsebreakers in 2007
The Pretty Little Horsebreakers in 2007

I was very pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the cancan with Jenni – and with two dancers from The Pretty Little Horsebreakers troupe from Sussex, who “appeared” on the radio in full costume! Jenni asked one of them, Mandy Kenward, to demonstrate a high kick and she nearly hit the rather low radio studio ceiling! Strangely, at that time I hadn’t met many dancers performing the cancan today, although I’d interviewed a number who’d had appeared in cabaret and stage shows in the past. So it was great to meet Mandy and Michelle that day. The Pretty Little Horsebreakers are still going strong – and even offer cancan dancing lessons for those who dare!

When the interview was broadcast a week later, I got some great feedback and realised that the subject was ideal for talks at Women’s Institute meetings. So I applied to take part in speakers’ selection evenings for WIs in Northamptonshire (where I live) and Warwickshire (the next county). Over the years I’ve given dozens of talks to WI branches, and also to other groups – men’s groups included! – in Northants and Warwicks. The cancan talk always goes down very well, and some groups have even invited me back to give my other popular talk: on the Parisian courtesans of the 19th century.

All my talks are illustrated, and the cancan talk has film clips and music. The cancan is a vibrant, exciting dance and clearly needs visuals to show what it’s all about. The history of the cancan is extraordinary – if you attend one of my talks, you’ll find out how!



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