Dance and Culture

The Can Can

The cancan first appeared in the working-class ballrooms of Montparnasse in Paris in around 1830. It was a more lively version of the galop, a dance in quick 2/4 time, which often featured as the final figure in the quadrille. The cancan was, therefore, originally a dance for couples, who indulged in high kicks and other gestures with arms and legs. It is thought that they were influenced by the antics of a popular entertainer of the 1820s, Charles Mazurier, who was well known for his acrobatic performances, which included the grand écart or jump splits—later a popular feature of the cancan. At this time, and throughout most of the 19th century in France, the dance was also known as the chahut. Both words are French, cancan meaning "tittle-tattle" or "scandal", hence a scandalous dance, while chahut meant "noise" or "uproar". The dance did cause something of a scandal, and for a while, there were attempts to repress it. Occasionally people dancing the cancan were arrested but it was never officially banned, as is sometimes claimed. Throughout the 1830s, it was often groups of men, particularly students, who caused the most outrage by dancing the cancan at public dance-halls.
As performers of the cancan became more skilled and adventurous, it gradually developed a parallel existence as entertainment, alongside the participatory form, although it was still very much a dance for individuals and not yet performed on stage by a chorus line. A few men became cancan stars in the 1840s to 1860s, and an all-male group known as the Quadrille des Clodoches performed the dance in London in 1870. But women performers were much more widely known in this period. They were mostly middle-ranking courtesans, and only semiprofessional entertainers—unlike the dancers of the 1890s, such as La Goulue and Jane Avril, who were highly paid for their appearances at the Moulin Rouge and elsewhere. The female dancers of the Second Empire and the fin-de-siècle developed the various cancan moves that were later incorporated by the choreographer Pierre Sandrini in the spectacular "French Cancan", which he devised at the Moulin Rouge in the 1920s and presented at his own Bal Tabarin from 1928.

Traditional Japanese Geisha Dance

Geisha begin their study of music and dance when they are very young and continue it throughout their lives. Geisha can work into their eighties and nineties,[[#cite_note-kyotox-2|[]][[#cite_note-kyotox-2|3]][[#cite_note-kyotox-2|]]] and are expected to train every day even after seventy years of experience.[[#cite_note-62|[]][[#cite_note-62|63]][[#cite_note-62|]]]
The word geisha literally means "artist" and late in the eighteenth century this could have described an array of Japanese women artists: Shiro, purely an entertainer; kerobi, a tumbling geisha; kido, a geisha who stood at the entrance to carnivals; or joro, a prostitute and the type of woman that professional geishas have been wrongly mistaken as for many years.[[#cite_note-Downer-7|[]][[#cite_note-Downer-7|8]][[#cite_note-Downer-7|]]]
The dance of the geisha has evolved from the dance performed on the kabuki stage. The "wild and outrageous" dances transformed into a more subtle, stylized, and controlled form of dance. It is extremely disciplined, similar to tai chi. Every dance uses gestures to tell a story and only a connoisseur can understand the subdued symbolism. For example, a tiny hand gesture represents reading a love letter, holding the corner of a handkerchief in the mouth represents coquetry and the long sleeves of the elaborate kimono are often used to symbolize dabbing tears.[[#cite_note-Downer-7|[]][[#cite_note-Downer-7|8]][[#cite_note-Downer-7|]]]
The dances are accompanied by traditional Japanese music. The primary instrument is the shamisen. The shamisen was introduced to the geisha culture in 1750 and has been mastered by female Japanese artists for years.[[#cite_note-Maske-63|[]][[#cite_note-Maske-63|64]][[#cite_note-Maske-63|]]] This shamisen, originating in Okinawa, is a banjo-like three-stringed instrument that is played with a plectrum. It has a very distinct, melancholy sound that is often accompanied by flute. The instrument is described as "melancholy" because traditional shamisen music uses only minor thirds and sixths.[[#cite_note-Maske-63|[]][[#cite_note-Maske-63|64]][[#cite_note-Maske-63|]]] All geisha must learn shamisen-playing, though it takes years to master. Along with the shamisen and the flute, geisha also learned to play a ko-tsuzumi, a small, hourglass-shaped shoulder drum, and a large floor taiko (drum). Some geisha would not only dance and play music, but would write beautiful, melancholy poems. Others painted pictures or composed music.[[#cite_note-Downer-7|[]][[#cite_note-Downer-7|8]][[#cite_note-Downer-7|]]]