The mere utterance of the words “French Cancan” makes wide-eyed French and international tourists think of a joyous show of dancing, music, giant feathers and frilly skirts. But where does the cancan really come from? As part of the release of French Cancan, the latest blend from Kusmi Tea, we wanted to take you on a trip through this magical world.
The origins of the Cancan
Let us go back to the early 19th century, when dances at private and public balls were highly codified. For example, it was unthinkable to change the steps of the popular quadrille dance performed by couples. But towards the middle of the century, a rebellious trend saw men trying their hands at short, improvised, solo dances. This was the beginning of the chahut, also known as coin-coin (“quack-quack,” in English) or “Cancan,” in reference to the waddling movement of ducks. A few daring women then joined the dance, throwing their legs up and revealing their underwear. This initially caused outrage, but went on to become a leading fashion. A famous dancer on the Parisian cabaret scene, Céleste Mogador, invented a new version in 1850. The revamped dance was performed by a row of people and set to vigorously rhythmic music. And so the modern Cancan was born.
From rebellious dancing to glitzy, glamorous shows
This spirit of Parisian freedom that defined the Belle Epoque intrigued and inspired a number of other countries. In London, producer Charles Morton decided to present this new French dance as a ballet, and renamed it the “French Cancan.” The show was an instant hit. Everything was designed to enchant the audience: The joyful dancing, the accompanying laughter and shouts, the flexibility and balance of the dancers, the seductive costumes with their colorful frills and push-up bras, all set to the rousing tunes of Offenbach! This infectious happiness was unstoppable, and led to the opening of the very first artistic cabarets in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris, along with the very first Cancan schools.
The Folies Bergères and the Moulin Rouge cabarets helped launched the new trend by putting on evening Cancan shows. Others then followed suit, such as Le Paradis Latin, Le Crazy Horse, and Le Lido in Paris, along with other prestigious establishments across France. These institutions created magnificent, comprehensive shows featuring different dances including the now legendary French Cancan. But the Moulin Rouge remains one the most famous, and today is renowned the world over! Founded in 1889, it enchanted the public from the moment it opened thanks to its enormous dancefloor, extravagant design, and artists showcasing the true art of the Cancan. It went on to become a temple of operettas, music hall performances (with the unforgettable Mistinguett), and dinner-theater shows. The establishment still puts on performances today, each more astonishing than the last. And did you know that every Moulin Rouge show has a name beginning with the letter “F”? Think Frou-Frou, Frisson, Frénésie, Fascination, Formidable, and Féerie… A wonderful way to continue the tradition.
If you have never been to see a French Cancan show, then now is the time! You will leave the cabaret astonished by the lightheartedness, rhythm, joie de vivre, feathers, colors, and glitter!