Paris Dansant? Improvising across urban, racial and international geographies in the early cancan

Parfitt-Brown, Clare (2012) Paris Dansant? Improvising across urban, racial and international geographies in the early cancan. In: Dance and the Social City, 14-17 June 2012, Philadelphia, US. (Submitted)

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Abstract

This paper addresses the cancan - not the familiar choreographed performance, but the improvised social dance that emerged among working-class dancers in 1820s Paris. Sources from the period reveal working men and women traversing not only a complex Parisian landscape of popular dance spectatorship and performance, but also taking advantage of Paris’s status as an international metropole to consume non-French movement. After observing performances of ‘national’ dance forms (such as the Spanish cachucha and the Haitian chica) at the popular theatres of the Boulevard du Temple in north-east Paris, working-class dancers incorporated these movements into their dancing at the suburban guinguettes (dance venues) outside the city walls. These variations became known as the cancan or chahut. In the early 1830s, the cancan became popular at the mixed-class masked carnival balls that took place in central Parisian theatres, such as the Paris Opéra. By the 1840s, the dance had come to embody the pleasures and dangers of a Parisian nightlife based on class and gender confusion, subversion and deception, documented in books such as Physiologie des bals de Paris (1841) and Paris au bal (1848). As the cancan was increasingly incorporated into the mythology of July Monarchy Paris, the class and gender subversions of the dance obscured the international and racial ambiguities that haunted its inception. This paper therefore focuses on the tensions between the cancan’s status as ‘Parisian’, and as an embodiment of a popular culture based on fascination with France’s European and colonial others in the 1820s.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DC France, Andorra, and Monaco
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GV Recreation Leisure > GV1580 Dance
N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
Divisions: Departments > Dance
Event Title: Dance and the Social City
Event Location: Philadelphia, US
Event Dates: 14-17 June 2012
Depositing User: Clare Parfitt
Date Deposited: 11 Jun 2013 10:39
Last Modified: 20 Jan 2014 14:10
URI: http://eprints.chi.ac.uk/id/eprint/650

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