Let’s Do the Can-Can! Get to Know the Different Cabaret Dance Moves

If you are looking for a new dance workout or want to passionately tease someone with your seductive dance moves, why not do the can-can? Get to know the different cabaret dance moves in our article and learn about the history and future of burlesque dancing!

When Did It All Start?

Cabarets have a rich and raunchy history. It all goes back to 15th-century France. Back then, people served wine and food on cloth-covered tables. However, modern cabarets originated in the 1880s. They were born in the bohemian neighborhood of Montmartre, Paris. Le Chat Noir was the first cabaret of its kind. There, artists, students, models, journalists, high-rollers, and prostitutes all met to seek out exotic experiences.

In those days, French cabarets influenced the emergence of many similar venues in Europe and America. They were full of music, entertainment, but also satire, political commentary, and exotic dancing. See top Cabarets in Paris

Most notably, cabarets were popular in the Belle Epoque era. With the Moulin Rouge club, they became commercial. The main attractions were exposed legs, lustrous cleavage, extravagant underwear (crotchless panties), and provocative choreography. A continuous flow of alcohol, along with an atmosphere of debauchery and sexy dancers, allowed venues to flourish financially.

Of course, many people thought the dances were scandalous. Dances like the can-can influenced the culture and music of American cabaret, and commercial venues continued to prosper until the early 1900s.

Risqué with Burlesque

Compared to cabaret, burlesque has a broader connotation. Namely, it is rooted in literature. The term actually means “ridicule” or “mockery.” As a type of performance art, traditional burlesque dancing became popular in 19th-century England. The main difference between cabaret and burlesque is that burlesque shows take place in theaters.

Historically, burlesque performances were family-friendly events. They included singing, dancing, skits, slapstick humor, musicians, and dancing. Moreover, in the 1800s, Victorian burlesque shows adapted ballets, plays, and opera into comic play that was risqué in style. They often mocked or parodied the original works. The dancing was mainly based on comedic moves and pantomime. Conversely, cabaret was a form of male adult entertainment.

However, when English burlesque became obsolete, American burlesque thrived by introducing female nudity and “cooch” dances. In the 1900s, the action moved to cabarets and clubs. Not long after, burlesque evolved into striptease.

Nowadays, burlesque dancing typically features seductive black/red lingerie. It also incorporates stockings and garters, corsets, and nudity. It includes walks, turns, swirls, hair flips, arches, etc. Some still view it as a form of objectification. Others, on the other hand, believe it to be an authentic and liberating way of expressing female sexuality.

You Can Can-Can

Many people often confuse burlesque dancing with the French can-can dance. However, the latter requires high energy. Traditionally, tall female dancers perform it in a chorus line and in 2/4 time. It first became common in music-hall acts and transitioned into cabarets. It was also common to see male can-can dancers in public dance-halls.

As mentioned earlier, the can-can is mostly recognizable due to its high kicks. Also, this dance is famous for cartwheels and splits. Other moves included the rond de jambe and port d’armes. The choreography makes use of petticoats and skirts.

In cabaret performances, those moves were seen as revealing and inappropriate, especially with garments that had open crotches. Yet, it’s still unclear if performers wore closed underwear.

How Other Dances Influenced Sexy Dancing

Cabaret performances were strongly influenced by dance forms from various world cultures. The can-can mainly used music composed for gallops. Improvisations were based on the quadrille. Also, the Cuban rumba influenced cabaret dances. Moreover, ballet and folk forms had a significant impact on burlesque dancing.

By the 20th century, American cabaret took strong cues from jazz and various forms of Latin music. That includes Samba, Jive, Paso Doble, etc. The “Hoochie Coochie” is an example of a sexually provocative dance popular in the 1920s. Also, pole dancing was born during the Great Depression, and it was a mix of various dancing styles.

Still, it’s safe to say that any dance type is a melting pot of influences. Many dance types around the world that use high sex appeal have influenced modern striptease and erotic dancing. That includes Baile funk dancing, the Angolan Tarraxinha, Egyptian Raqs Sharqi, and so on. The can-can and burlesque dance influenced Vegas showgirls as well as Go-Go dancing.

A New Dance Form, Perhaps?

The history of dance shows us that every new form or type can create a butterfly effect that influences new and existing styles. For example, Caribbean dance forms already relied on a potpourri of cultures, ethnicities, and styles before influencing African dances. In turn, African dances influenced Vaudeville and Broadway styles. In short, it’s evident that a dance form is usually based on multiple interconnecting influences rather than a single style.

You might want to know the history of Dance BBC

So are the can-can and other cabaret-style dances still relevant today? Do they still have the moves, attitudes, and social commentaries that can influence new dance forms? As mentioned, burlesque dancing and the can-can have already made a significant impact on dance and popular culture. They have been revived numerous times in movements like Neo-Burlesque.

However, that’s not to say that their relevance is completely worn out. They may not be as shocking as they used to, but it’s highly likely that the cabaret dance influence will spread. It’s already possible to see how new and old styles are influencing one another. A great example of this is the work of the burlesque performer Michelle L’Amour. This dancer went viral when she twerked to Beethoven’s 5th. She combined elements of burlesque dancing and style with twerking.

Can New Music Influence Cabaret Dance?

Art progresses thanks to the help of an endless cycle of influences. It’s safe to say that cabaret dance will constantly come back in various new forms. A fantastic example of this is the soundtrack for the 2001 film “Moulin Rouge.” The movie merged music from the cabaret era with hip hop, glam rock, and other styles of popular music. Ultimately, dance is an art form dependent on music. It’s likely that any dance style can evolve with the emergence of new musical genres.


All in all, cabaret dancing is a unique style that any aspiring dancer or hobbyist should try. It is energetic and seductive, as well as sexually liberating and stylish.