The Cancan Dance and its Remarkable History Lecture Hour

Ref: C2344479

Did you know that the first cancan dancers were men?! Or that the original dance was a ballroom dance, and it was only much later that it became an all-women chorus-line stage dance? These and other curious facts are revealed in my online talk on the cancan, based on my book on the dance, Cancan! The cancan first appeared in 1830 and by the 1860s people were describing it as the “French national dance”, but it’s most associated with the 1890s, when Toulouse-Lautrec’s famous models La Goulue and Jane Avril were dancing at the Moulin Rouge. We'll also look at the dance as it developed in the 20th century and how it is still being performed in many Parisian nightspots even today. Illustrated with film clips (with music), and contemporary photographs, cartoons and paintings.

Course aim

How the cancan first appeared as a hugely popular ballroom dance for couples in Parisian dance-halls in about 1830 and then evolved over the decades into being a spectacular stage entertainment.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • You will need your own personal email address so that you’re able to login to the WEA’s digital learning platform: WEA Canvas. You will need to be able to understand how to follow URL links to pages on the internet. If you want to understand more about Canvas please visit:
  • You will need to be able to follow links to join our WEA live video learning platform: WEA Zoom. If you’d like to understand more about our video learning platform, Zoom please visit: and
  • No skills or experience needed

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • Outline some of the main differences between the original cancan and the dance of the 1890s.
  • Describe how the music hall in Britain developed the dance as entertainment.
  • Suggest reasons why Offenbach's famous gallop from Orpheus in the Underworld became so much associated with the cancan

How will I be taught?

  • The WEA’s digital learning platform, Canvas, will be used to provide resources and feedback. If you want to understand more about our digital learning platform please visit:

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • You will have opportunities to discuss your progress with your tutor

What else do I need to know?

  • Nothing else is needed
  • What you need: You will need an internet connection, speakers or headphones, a microphone and a webcam so that you can use our video learning platform, Zoom. If you’d like to understand more about Zoom please visit:

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • No pre reading or pre course work is required

What can I do next?

  • Progress to another WEA course
  • Progress to a course with another provider
  • Become involved with the WEA in a range of voluntary work and other activities including campaigning as a WEA member
  • Access the WEA What Next? booklet here

Download full course information sheet

The Cancan Dance and its Remarkable History Lecture Hour


As a registered charity, and to meet our funders’ requirements, we need to check a few things with you before you enrol. Please check the details below to ensure you meet the basic eligibility critiera:

  • You are paying the standard fee (with a credit or debit card) or you are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • You have a valid email address so that you can receive confirmation of your booking
  • You have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • You are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2020
  • You declare that the address you provide is correct and that you will provide evidence of this and your eligibility to live and work in the UK
  • You have read and accept our standard terms and conditions

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