Come on now, how many of you have started singing the ‘can-can song’? Come on, raise your hands. Or are you too busy clapping? Hmm, it’s certainly what I started doing when I first discovered this question. I heard this song now and again growing up, but not once did I question what the heck the can-can even was. I mean, the clues suggest it’s a smutty French burlesque doodah, although I guess when it comes to the French, ‘smutty’ is a superfluous word. In the same way ‘restrained’ is a superfluous word when referring to the British, or ‘neat haircuts’ and the Swedish. So, what is the reality? Well, let’s Google it. Ah, here we go. ‘Urban Dictionary’? What’s that? I’ve never heard of it. Well, it’s the first result. So let’s just click on… ARRGH! OH MY GOD, WHAT THE HELL IS THIS SITE! ARRGH! MY EYES! MY BEAUTIFUL EYES!
Well, the name of the dance comes from the French equivalent of the phrase ‘tittle-tattle’ or ‘scandal’. Nobody knows where the dance comes from exactly, but one thing we do know is that, originally, it was considered scandalous. The first performers of the dance were women and they wore pantalettes, which had an open crotch, which meant that when a woman kicked high, you saw rather a lot. It was never banned but people were arrested for performing it. I wonder if they mentioned the reason for their arrest to their cellmates…
It became popular in dance halls across the globe in the mid-1800s, mainly among young male students. It became professional, with male and female groups performing it the world over, but more people went to see the female groups. I have no idea why. Cough, pantalettes, cough. It grew massively in popularity in American and English dance halls, a highly energetic dance with high kicks and dancing terminology that literally bores the knickers off me. It also involved cartwheels, splits, screams and claps. And for many patrons, the night ended with a very different kind of dance with the dancing girls, resulting in a very different kind of clap.
It was the rock and roll of its day, subverting common societal norms like a giant middle finger at the establishment. It became more and more sexually suggestive as it headed into the 20th century, with more bloomer reveals and with more and more suggestive underwear typical of the period. The dancing also became more and more daring, with many dancers kicking the hats off patrons as part of bets. I don’t think many were kicked in the face. Although it would’ve been hilarious to see…
Am I the only one who doesn’t like the can-can? You see, one could say that it’s wrong because it’s women behaving lewdly and in a semi-erotic manner for the entertainment of men. Others would say, well, sure, you can ban the can-can, but if you ban the can-can, then you’re telling women what they can do and what they can’t do. It’s not an easy thing to discuss, is it?
I don’t dance. But even if I did, I wouldn’t dance the can-can. It’s too energetic, for a start. And I’m far from healthy. Never mind the 10 minutes of dancing, I’d have a heart attack after about 10 seconds. And nobody wants to see me in pantalettes, do they? So, no, I don’t think I could do the can-can, but even if I could, I wouldn’t anyway.
But can you do the can-can, readers?
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