5 things you probably didn’t know about the Moulin Rouge

5 things you probably didn’t know about the Moulin Rouge

World famous for its Cancan dancers, the Moulin Rouge in Paris never ceases to bedazzle its audiences. Here are five things you probably didn’t know about the world’s greatest cabaret.

The Moulin Rouge is a veritable French institution. This emblem of not only  Paris, but also the Belle Époque era was immortalized by Toulouse Lautrec. Nearly 130 years after its 1889 opening, the Moulin Rouge has not lost its appeal–thanks in part to the 2001 Baz Luhrmann film.  Here’s a look at some of the secrets behind the world’s greatest cabaret.

1. Why does the Moulin Rouge mean red windmill?

Montmartreonce a small hilltop village east of Paris, was a true artists’ sanctuary.  Far from the city’s pollution and chaos, this peaceful vineyard-covered haven was home to many windmills, including the famous Moulin Rouge…which was not yet red or a cabaret! With the tastes of the bourgeoisie in mind, wealthy entrepreneurs Joseph Oller and Charles Zidler bought and founded the Moulin Rouge in 1889. Anyone who was anyone in Paris rushed there to dance to the Cancan! The two founders, who quickly attained iconic status, decided to paint it red – not only a symbol of passionate love eroticism but also a hue that was visible from afar. The first illuminated establishment in Paris, the cabaret’s electric lights magnified this alluring color, attracting customers in search of frolic and frivolity.

2. Champagne flows freely there

Champagne is effervescent and festive, just like the Moulin Rouge itself, so it’s fitting that the French sparkler is the cabaret’s official drink, making the cabaret the world’s largest consumer of Champagne. Each year, approximately 600,000 visitors attend the two daily performances, and every one of the attendees receives a glass. But there’s more to the Moulin Rouge than Champagne, breathtaking performances and its exceptional history. Its 97% attendance record is thanks to the exceptional efforts of the 450 employees who uphold the restaurant’s irreproachable quality. The Moulin Rouge restaurant reflects the French way of life and holds its own among Paris’ finest dining establishments. And to top it off, each order includes a half-bottle of Champagne.

3. The ‘F’ show tradition

The Moulin Rouge has served as a cabaret, dance club, music hall, theater, concert café, cinema (Europe’s largest in 1935) and even–at certain times–a TV show set. But its global reputation and ongoing renown stem from the iconic ‘musical shows‘, long-running grandiose spectacles. Formidable, the hundredth-anniversary show, ran for from 1989 to 1999 before making room for Féérie, the current production. Each evening, 60 dazzling Doriss Girls, surrounded by a troupe of 80 artists, appear on stage dressed in 1,000 feathers, sequin and rhinestone costumes. After the first ‘Cancan’ show led by Doris Haug and Ruggero Angeletti, all the names of the subsequent shows began with an ‘F’ – such as Frou-Frou, Frisson Fantastic and Femmes, femmes, femmes -, a tradition that continues today!

4. The French Cancan: a symbol of frivolity or a tool for women’s empowerment?

Everyone knows the French Cancan thanks in part to Toulouse-Lautrec’s depictions of La Goulue, the legend who created the Moulin Rouge’s world-famous routine. This brief and energetic dance form involves a chorus line of women who lift their frilly skirts to a frenzied rhythm, revealing their underwear.  Although it was often perceived as a dance for the amoral and created solely for the pleasure of men, the French Cancan was actually a tool for female empowerment. The women dance without the company or guidance of men. A symbol of freedom for women and the Parisian population in the process of emancipation, the Cancan allowed women and lower-class Parisians to become both literally and financially independent. The dancers teased the crowd and even came up with names for each of their seductive moves. La Goulue’s ‘ass kick’ was intended to mock someone; ‘the cathedral’ was created to provoke clergymen; and the ‘military salute’ or ‘machine gun’, was to tease soldiers.

5. Scandal at the Moulin Rouge

Did you know the famous French writer Colette performed at the Moulin Rouge in the early twentieth century? The great female novelist was also a mime, and she even triggered a true local scandal. In 1907 she starred in Rêve d’Égypte alongside the Marquise de Belbeuf, also known as ‘Missy’. At the end of the show, the two women exchanged a passionate kiss, sparking a major public outcry. The show was immediately canceled, but Colette, in her true fiery-artist spirit, returned to the scene a few months later in the mime-drama La Chair, during which she dared to reveal her breast in an act of bodily and moral liberation. Her music hall experience was a source of inspiration and brought no shame or embarrassment to her career as a novelist. Take, for instance, La Vagabonde,  L’Envers du music-hall, and En tournée.

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