Years of painstaking research came to fruition in 1998 with my book Cancan!, all about the naughty French Cancan dance. Originally published in London by Cygnus Arts, it was re-published as a paperback with additional material (and many more pictures!) in November 2010.

I had originally planned a small, highly illustrated souvenir for English-speaking tourists in Paris, but I soon became aware that there is a lot more to the cancan than you might think. It hasn’t always been a high-kicking chorus-line dance primarily for women dancers, and in fact the first cancan dancers were men! One day in around 1830 a student living it up in one of the working-class dance-halls in Montparnasse decided to inject a few more acrobatic movements into the dancing and the can can was born.

It wasn’t long before the local girls joined in and the cancan became the most outrageous, anarchic ballroom dance ever seen.

Can can dancer
One of the fantastic photos in the book: Sabine Le Roc performing a magnificent grand écart (photo by Francis Campiglia)

Today the cancan is known as a high-kicking chorus-line stage dance for women, who lift up their skirts revealing frilly underwear and black stockings. But it went through a number of phases in its development, and this style of cancan only really appeared in Paris in the 1920s. Throughout the 19th century, the dance was mainly a vehicle for individual stars (like Jane Avril, on the poster reproduced above), each of whom had her own trademark. These cancan stars continued to perform on a dance floor, as if enjoying a fun night out, but their male partners were very much in a secondary role.

Le Moulin de la Galette in Montmartre, Paris
Le Moulin de la Galette in Montmartre, Paris

There are numerous myths associated with this one dance, for example: that the composer Offenbach invented it for his operetta Orpheus in the Underworld; that it was created at the Moulin Rouge; that the dancers were all prostitutes; that it was frequently danced without knickers; or that it was officially banned by the authorities in France, Britain or the U.S.A. These are all misconceptions – but there is a little bit of truth in all of them, even if only a grain. All is revealed in the book!

The revised, paperback version of the book was first published 1 November 2010. See more pictures from the book here. For more information and/or to buy a copy, please click here.

Contact me here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *