There are Egyptian relief's that depict the fundamental Can-Can high kicking above the audiences heads. The Catatonian's and Parisian women (French) are also depicted kicking the hats off of the gentlemen spectators. The "Triori" of 1549 from South Brittany was very similar to today's cancan, the women danced alone, lifting their dresses up in front and kicking their legs up to the ceiling. The dancers or "High-Kickers" as they were called, emerged over time and ended up in Paris, France. In the late 19th. Century ... Paris was still the dance center of the world. It was later introduced to England at the Oxford Music Hall sometime in the 1860's by the proprietor Charles Morton who introduced the "Can Can," with a troupe headed by Imre Kiralfy and his brother Bolossy along with their sister Aniola.
The Can-Can is a hybrid of the Polka and the Quadrille and was said to be first danced in 1822, and by 1830 was being outlawed for a number of years as immoral and indecent and prohibited by the police. It has been said that "Chicard"
invented the Can-Can, but very doubtful (He more probably named itor choreographed with it). The Can-Can's first American public stage performance (not in a saloon) was in the
"Black Crook" at Niblo's Gardens in New York, September 12th., 1866, this production was a milestone in dance and theatre and helped to start Burlesque theatre (the Folies Bergere in France opened in 1869.)
Originally, the word Can-Can in French meant "Scandal," or "Edge", since they usually danced on the edge of the stage. The Can-Can is said to be the start of public nudity, because of the bare legs above the stockings to the frilly panties, which at the time was very indecent. Eventually the Can Can costume consisted of sporting fishnet stockings, high heels, bustier's, feathers and frilly skirts. The word Burlesque first came into use in the 16th. Century in an opera of the Italian Francesco Berni , who called his works burleschi. American stage burlesque (from 1865), often referred to as "burleycue " or leg show which began as a variety show, characterized by vulgar dialogue and broad comedy, and uninhibited behavior by performers and audience.
Later the public tolerated the dance and it became very popular around 1830, mainly because the ladies would wear long black dresses and kick their legs up in the air, thus the men could see the knees and legs of the ladies (at the time was Oo-La-La!). The Can Can's popularity lasted till around 1844, after this time the dance mainly was used in revues and musical comedies, especially in France.
In 1845, La Princesse Celeste de Mogador (Morocco?), Introduced the "Can-Can Eccentrique" at the Bal Mabille, Bal Montesquieu, Bal de la Citb dAntin and the Bal Valentino. At the time it was performed by all walks of life. By 1848, it was frowned upon by the police as being too risqué.
In the 1890's the Can-Can was done to March and later Ragtime music. The Can-Can was originally a group (Line type) dance done by both sexes with the Tiller Girls and Rockettes as an off shoot of the Can-Can. Leading dancers would eventually perform the Can-Can for audiences. The ballet by Massine (b.1894) was an excellent example of the Can-Can, titled "Gaite' Parisienne" (1938), which later was made into a movie, "The Gay Parisian."
While both sexes originally danced the Can-Can, now however, the French Can-Can is now danced mainly by women. Most Americans are familiar with the Can-Can as portrayed in many Hollywood Westerns. Michael Jackson can be seen using a variation of the Can-Can in his dance routines (Lifting the Leg and circling it around).
The characteristic movements include: 1) "Circling the Legs" (lifting one leg and rotating only the lower half, thus forcing the derriere to wobble) 2) The "Pigeon Wing " (bringing the bust into play by leaping forward, kicking high and throwing the shoulders back while "carrying on the arm" (or holding one leg up against the cheek while hopping lightly on the other leg). 3) The grand finale (was the splits, generally done from a running start with a yell to the audience).
The "Kicking Polka" (has a similarity to the Can-Can) was introduced in the "Queen of the Moulin Rouge" and was considered more provocative than the infamous Apache Dance. As a side note: a Guinness record of 8,005 high kicks were performed by Veronica Evans (-Steen), in 4 hours and 40 minutes in London, 1939.