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World Burlesque Day


Fight against the monarchy, socialism, anarchism, feminism ... The cancan is born in a context of strong social and intellectual mobilizations!




"Effects of incendiary legs, to show thirty-six candles at the Morale"


Alfred Delvau on Rigolboche







When the Restoration was imposed in France, the balls, until now the privileges of kings, became public. Guinguettes open their doors in and around Paris, allowing everyone to go dancing and free themselves. At the time, most of the current external districts of Paris were only suburbs outside the capital, which would annex most of them in 1860. The quadrille established itself as THE dance of the time, very codified and practiced collectively. A saving parenthesis in the lives of the time, the ballroom unfolds and the heckling (also called "rider alone") takes root in these quadrilles. Men have a minute to get out of this very framed dance, to improvise. Improvise untidy steps, shouts, yells, where everyone can express their uniqueness, with banter, humor or even nonsense. From there to speak of trance, there would be only one step ...


When women seize this moment reserved for men, justice is seized. Many women are interned at the Pitié Salpêtrière for hysteria. We are in 1831, and it is as much the social order as the bodies that are heckled. A dictionary at the time defined heckling as "the name of a dance, or rather a way of dancing, extremely indecent." The heckling broke out in France in some ill-famed places, although the police forbid it in all public places. "(The Supplement to the Dictionary of the French Academy).


The word "cancan" is spreading, an alternative to the term heckling. Its definition is no more chastised: "a kind of improper dance of public balls, with exaggerated jumps and impudent, derisive and mocking gestures. "


The liberation of women’s bodies, minds and will to dance without a rider would be a threat to society.


The cancan is subversive, refuses choreographic codes, provokes hierarchical systems. Around the 1870s, the cancan tends to become codified, with the invention of steps which will be taken up by many dancers, until we learn the fundamentals today.


As the cancan dancers discover their bodies, we will successively call the cancan naturalistic quadrille, then feminist quadrille in 1900.







In the cancan, everything is feminist. But we can dedicate this section to some women who took up arms against patriarchy through their dances.


Despite all the violence suffered but killed by women, the Church worries about losing ground: divorce is authorized by the law of 1884, women start to work. Women workers attend these public balls and begin to assert their right not to be intended for mere motherhood, silence and discretion.


Céleste Mogador, dancer and writer, launched the quirky quadrille or cancan in the 1840s. If these improvisations performed by women (and prohibited) already existed, it is Céleste Mogador, demi-mondaine, who is the first to be officially associated cancan. She uses her “cancanic” improvisations to denounce gender inequalities, as she does in all of her literary work as well. At this time therefore, women dance alone, or between them, but mark their independence from men.


Right after her, the dancer Rigolboche, in the 1860s took over and invented new steps, like the guitar. Also known as Fanny Essler scoundrel, named after a great ballet dancer of the time, Rigolboche ignited the Bal Mabille. We retain its elegance, flexibility and cheekiness. In the pa of the guitar, she raises her petticoats and one leg, to mimic masturbation.


As we approach the 1870s, petticoats rise. Women rebel against their situation, overturn the taboos that surround them and show what others refuse to look at. La Goulue will be famous for its cul-de-cul and Jane Avril, with its famous long legs, will raise the petticoats even higher than the ankles.


At the time, cabaret dancers were divided into two categories. Lyric agents, young women enlisted in the trafficking of boards, victims of large-scale pimping in cabarets. But also some great figures like La Goulue, a semi-socialite who will take advantage of her status as queen of the Moulin Rouge to be the mistress of her own life (she will symbolically wear a leather collar reminiscent of the one worn by dogs). Young bride and mother, she chooses this life and this independence.


Jane Avril is also considered a rebellious, interned young in the service of Professor Charcot at the Pitié-Salpêtrière for hysteria, she succeeds in getting out and escaping the yoke of her violent mother to build the life of artist and muse qu 'we know him.





An important part of the steps of the current cancan comes from the sources surrounding the Paris Commune. If France is revolutionary, the Paris Commune remains a symbol of the uprising of the people against the oppression of the army and the clergy. The legacies of La Commune are still felt in Montmartre today, and above all, are found in the footsteps of the cancan.


The Commune was a traumatic event, which nevertheless remains the first experience resulting from the first socialist international. For the first time, all the Parisian people mix, all social classes, genders (parity is respected in the committees) and it is a unique social and political experience, respecting as closely as possible democratic ideals. The solidarity of the people against systemic violence creates the cancan.


Close to the pantomime, the cancan mimics, gets bigger, snubs at its detractors. Thus, we find steps like the guitar mentioned above, but above all, names evoking the war. No charges, military salutes, gun ports, gallops, ass shots and other machine guns accompanied the famous cancan beats. The shouts are an essential component of the cancan, a sound symbol of the insurrection, announcing the coming storm!


But the army is not the only mockery, in that it is the institution that represents the oppression of women, the church takes its rank with steps like cathedrals, steps of believer or even the bells.


The name of these steps is strong in the symbolism that these women give to their dance. This provocative spirit is their trademark. They are not afraid to step up to the plate in front of men, order, power, good manners and to measure themselves against them, in their own way.








The cancan influences fashion. If the crinoline was de rigueur in the 1850s, it was almost impossible to dance the cancan with such imposing and frozen dresses. All this is done in parallel with a movement of women who then begin to fight to lighten their outfits and the clothing shackles that torture the bodies. Jane Avril, mythical cancan dancer still wearing her hat, will refuse to wear a corset.


Around the new dresses appears the art of skirting, which is one of the bases of the cancan. If at the beginning, we raise her petticoats to discover her ankles (high shamelessness at the time!), Jane Avril who makes her reputation with her long legs helps to raise the petticoats to let glimpse up above the knees!


The legs untie themselves, show themselves; flexibility and the big gap are de rigueur. The split panties adopted by dancers from the 1880s are there to shock spectators


Over time, the pants will close, but above all will leave the form of pants for shorter models, more indented, which reveal more thighs or buttocks ...!


The garter was made to maintain the stockings at the time when the Dim’Up and the garter belt did not exist. During the Middle Ages, the tradition developed to raise the bride's dowry (and therefore its value) developed through a sort of auction. The men were bidding to get the garter, and as the auction went on, the bride had to lift her skirt and uncover her leg. This tradition still exists today under the name of "garter game", very controversial since some consider it degrading to put a price on a woman.


The cancan dancers wore these garters to mock the marriage, this tradition and the existence of the dowry. Remember that they discovered their legs on their own, without being paid by men ...! Like La Goulue who wanted to be his own mistress, we can see there the marker of an assumed emancipation.








Iconic places and artists


The cancan was danced in public balls, at the Bal Mabille, at the Closerie des Lilas, at the Bal Bullier, at the Moulin Rouge, at the Moulin de la Galette, at the Élysée-Montmartre. From the suburbs to Montmartre or Montparnasse, the Parisian dancers go wild.


After Reine Pomaré, Céleste Mogador and Brididi, land Rigolboche then La Goulue, Nini Patte-en-l'air, Grille d'Égoût, Demi-Siphon, Gueule Plate, Sardine, Moonlight, Zizi, Poil aux Pattes , the Vorace, the Torpedo, Skull, the Poop Kid ... La provoc ', down to the name.

The cancan inspires many artists, painters of the time such as Toulouse-Lautrec, musicians like Offenbach, Strauss who write on "Parisian Gaiety", chansonniers like Aristide Bruant; but also filmmakers fascinated by this universe still years later (Jean Renoir, Walter Lang). Baudelaire even devotes verses to Jane Avril.

The cancan, now called "French cancan", makes the reputation of Paris internationally, and is still danced every evening at the Moulin Rouge or at the Paradis Latin. Amateur and professional troops continue to form around the world ...

The cancan is even danced on the most prestigious stages of the world in ballets and operas like La Gaieté Parisienne.

Long live the revolution!

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