Cancan By Parfitt-Brown, Clare
The cancan is a popular dance form closely associated with the Parisian setting in which it emerged and underwent much of its early development. From its origins as a French social dance practice in the early nineteenth century, the dance shifted to a more performative mode of presentation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The nineteenth-century cancan involved both male and female dancers performing either solo or in couples, improvising around the quadrille form. The dance attracted the attention of the writers and artists of an incipient Parisian modernism in the 1830s and 1840s, and this connection was reinvigorated in the 1880s and 1890s, particularly within the bohemian culture that centered on the Moulin Rouge. The familiar stereotype of the cancan as a female kick-line refers primarily to the form of the dance that emerged in the early twentieth century, echoing the development of modern mass culture. Later representations of the cancan, particularly in American films of the 1950s, referenced the Moulin Rouge of the 1890s and its connections with both the cancan and the post-Impressionist modern art of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.