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Viva Misadventure of French Fling surprising a passenger on the Glasgow Subway
(Photo: Loraine Ross)
The Cancan, the can-can, the French Cancan - whatever you want to call it – first appeared in Paris in the 1830s. But the original cancan bore little resemblance to the choreographed, chorus-line stage dance that we know today.
The first cancan dancers were men!
Yes, it's true, the original cancan dancers were men who livened up a popular ballroom dance called the galop. Of course, it wasn't long before the women joined in, but in those early days they didn't lift up their skirts in the way we are familiar with today. The first cancan was in fact a dance for couples, based on the galop, and it first appeared in 1830 at a dance hall on the outskirts of Paris called the Grande Chaumière, which was frequented by the working classes and farm labourers.
Women take control
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, 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.
Read all about it!
My name is David Price and back in the 1990s I completed a book on this dance that has such a colourful history. This original book was actually published in 1998, and is now out of print, but I have revised it with new sections and lots more illustrations. This website is designed to give a flavour of what the revised book is like, and to present some of the fantastic photos that I collected for it. See some photos from the book here.
Fact or fiction? What people say about the cancan
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!