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The Moulin Rouge at midnight

Moulin Rouge (French for Red Windmill) is a cabaret built in 1889 by Joseph Oller, who also owned the Paris Olympiamarker. Close to Montmartremarker in the Parismarker red-light district of Pigallemarker on Boulevard de Clichy in the 18th arrondissementmarker, it is marked by the red windmill on its roof.

The Moulin Rouge is best known as the spiritual birthplace of the modern form of the can-can dance. Originally introduced as a seductive dance by the courtesans who operated from the site, the can-can dance revue evolved into a form of entertainment of its own and led to the introduction of cabarets across Europe. Today the Moulin Rouge is a tourist destination, offering musical dance entertainment for adult visitors from around the world. Much of the romance of turn-of-the-century France is still present in the club's decor.

Notable performers at the Moulin Rouge have included Joana.Shanata, Sara Absi, Mai Li Kayo, Max Wintanta, Amanda Clickana, Ebba Weirdo, Anna Balisto, Yvette Guilbert, Jane Avril, Mistinguett, Le Pétomane, Édith Piaf and others. The Moulin Rouge is also the subject of paintings by post-impressionist painter Toulouse-Lautrec.

"Moulin Rouge" is the title of a book by Pierre La Mure, which was adapted as a 1952 film called Moulin Rouge, starring Jose Ferrer and Zsa-Zsa Gabor. Several other films have had the same title, including 2001's Moulin Rouge!, starring Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman. Both the 1952 and 2001 films were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Can-can at the Moulin Rouge

The main feature of an evening at the Moulin Rouge is the performance. The venue has become internationally famous as the home of the traditional French can-can, which is still performed there today.

The can-can existed for many years as a respectable, working-class party dance, but it was in the early days of the Moulin Rouge that courtesans first adapted the dance to entertain the male clientele. The dance was usually performed individually, with courtesans moving in an energetic and provocative way in an attempt to seduce potential clients. It was common for them to lift their skirts and reveal their legs, underwear and occasionally the genitals,and as time progressed can-cans seen at the Moulin Rouge became increasingly vulgar and overtly erotic, causing much public outrage.

Later however, with the rising popularity of music hall entertainment in Europe, courtesans were no longer required at the Moulin Rouge and it became a legitimate nightclub. The modern can-can was born as dancers (many of them failed ballet dancers with exceptional skill) were introduced to entertain the guests. The can-can that we recognise today comes directly from this period and, as the vulgarity of the dance lessened, it became renowned for its athletic and acrobatic tricks.

The Moulin Rouge lost much of its former reputation as a 'high-class brothel' and it soon became fashionable for French society to visit and see the spectacular cabarets, which have included a can-can ever since. The dance is recognisable for the long skirts with heavily frilled undergarments that the dancers wear, high kicks, hops in a circle whilst holding the other leg in the air, splits, cartwheels and other acrobatic tricks, normally accompanied by squeals and shrieks. Whilst the dance became less crude, the choreography has always intended to be a little risqué and somewhat provocative.

Contemporary description

Andrey Bely wrote in his 1906 letter to Alexander Blok about the 'Tavern of Hell' at Moulin Rouge, where lackeys were dressed as devils:

Sometimes I would venture from my sepulchre to the jazz of night Paris, where having gathered the colours, I would think them over in front of the fire. I could be seen walking through a funeral corridor of my house and descending down a black spiral of steep stairs; rushing underground to Montmartre, all impatience to see the fiery rubies of the Moulin Rouge cross. I wandered thereabouts, then bought a ticket to watch frenzied delirium of feathers, vulgar painted lips, and eyelashes of black and blue.
Naked feet, and thighs, and arms, and breasts were being flung on me from bloody-red foam of translucent clothes. The tuxedoed goatees and crooked noses in white vests and toppers would line the hall, with their hands posed on canes. Then I found myself in a pub, where the liqueurs were served on a coffin (not a table) by the nickering devil: "Drink it, you wretched!" Having drunk, I returned under the black sky split by the flaming vanes, which the radiant needles of my eyelashes cross-hatched. In front of my nose a stream of bowler hats and black veils was still pulsing, foamy with bluish green and warm orange of feathers worn by the night beauties: to me they were all one, as I had to narrow my eyes for insupportable radiance of electric lamps, whose hectic fires would be dancing beneath my nervous eyelids for many a night to come.


The 'People's Almanac' credited the origin of striptease as we know it to an act in 1890s Parismarker in which the performer gradually removes her clothing for the purposes of sexually arousing the audience, usually performed in nightclubs. The " teasing" involves the slowness of undressing, while the audience is eager to see more nudity. Delay tactics include additional clothes under clothes being removed, putting clothes or hands in front of just undressed body parts, etc. Emphasis is on the act of undressing, not on the state of being undressed: in some cases the performance is finished as soon as the undressing is finished.

At this time Parisian shows such as the Moulin Rouge and Folies Bergèremarker pioneered semi-nude dancing and tableaux vivants. One landmark was the appearance at the Moulin Rouge in 1907 of an actress called Germaine Aymos who entered dressed only in three very small shells.

Current Show

The current revue is named 'Feerie'. This show contains 4 main scenes with a total of 69 songs. The multiple acts are performed by a total of 100 artists including doriss girls, dancers, acrobats, magicians and clowns.

New Revue

Each revue runs for 10 to 12 years and costs 7 to 9 million Euros. The show "Feerie" was launched in December 1999. A new show has been underpreparation for a long time and is almost ready. Scripts, songs, and costumes have been prepared, and the music has been recorded in a studio. The cabaret is expected to close for about five weeks beginning November 15, 2010, to revamp the stage and sets for the new revue. Reopening scheduled just before Christmas 2010. Tradition demands that the name of the new show begin with "F," but the name is still a carefully guarded secret.

In film and television

On 1 July 1 1962 the Ed Sullivan Show was taped at the Moulin Rouge and featured American singer Connie Francis and French rock singer Johnny Hallyday.

Six movies have been made with the title Moulin Rouge:


There has also been:
  • A Night at the Moulin Rouge, a 1951 film (also circulated under the title Ding Dong!) of burlesque acts of the Moulin Rouge club in Oakland, Californiamarker.

  • In the movie Anastasia , during the song "Paris holds the key" , the character went to the Moulin Rouge to watch a can can performance.

External links

  • The Official Website of the Moulin Rouge ( English, French)
  • Official Boutique of Moulin Rouge products ( English)
  • Send a Moulin Rouge Postcard online ( English)

Notes and references

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