Can Can Smack Smack


The Can Can! It’s the epitome of a cheeky, sexy dance. And when it stabilized into its familiar form, after the First World War, it incorporated an especially provocative move that must be a favorite around here:

The girls bend over, whisk up their skirts and present their bottoms to the audience! They’ve been doing it ever since:

It’s even the image some Can Can troupes choose for their publicity.

Now, you might think this is a move that makes the girls appear vulnerable, or even submissive.

But you’d be wrong. For between the wars, when the business was introduced, this was a woman’s gesture of mocking defiance, on a par with poking her tongue out, only more spectacular and much more immodest.

That particular connotation may have been lost over the years, but the gesture remains a welcome feature of modern Can Can performances:

It found its way into imagery associated with Cole Porter’s 1953 musical named after the dance…

and onto the film poster for Jean Renoir’s 1956 movie, French Cancan:

In the relevant sequence of the film, Françoise Arnoul and her fellow dancers wear more abbreviated bloomers, and, if you look carefully, 1956 panties underneath:

But still, if a girl presents her upturned and uncovered bottom to the world, surely someone will take advantage?

And if there’s a man onstage too, watch out!

Here the point is made at greater length and in motion, in a performance from the south of France:

And what happens when there are more men in the troupe? We’ll let German television enlighten us:

Can Can dancers can take consolation in one thing. OTK is a complicated position to get into and even more complicated to disengage from in order to continue the performance, so they rarely face the ultimate peril onstage. Disappointing? Never mind, rarely doesn’t mean never

I have to acknowledge one personal disappointment concerning the Can Can. By her own account, the esteemed Elisabeth Sladen was ‘pretty good at the Can Can’ in her younger days, and hoped eventually to use the skill playing a saloon girl. She never did, and I never saw her Can Can.

Not quite the same as hoisting up her skirts to show off the seat of her panties, is it?

Ah well, long live the Can Can!

3 thoughts on “Can Can Smack Smack

  1. maitrefesseur says:

    Excellent article on one of my favourite subgenres within our favourite subject. From the otk scene (it’s from the Thames Festival in London in the early 2000’s) I actually own a videoclip. It was filmed by someone with his/her handy and uploaded to an asian youtube pendant. It’s not online anymore as it seems, but I downloaded it back then. The quality is not extraordinary but it could make a nice addition. If you would like to have it, I should be able to provide it.


  2. Nice job, Harry! Your research and presentation is much appreciated!

    I remember seeing various Can-Can dance sort-of parodies in cartoons from “Pinocchio” to Bugs Bunny and company, and even on variety shows, but it never really affected me until, at age 13 or so, I saw the one in “House of Wax!” It’s no better than others, but hit me at the right time. What do suppose the 3D 50’s audiences thought? Ha!

    And thank you, I didn’t know a Pat-A-Pat had been recently added to the Can-Can! I heartily approve of that choreography! 😀


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