One hundred years ago the laundry girls of Montmartre invented a street dance which became known as the Can Can. Some dancers love it and some hate it. The audiences, especially the men, love it.
One instructor who teaches this dance commented that dancers do not like the thought of doing the dance if they are having an off day and are tired: “It is difficult; it causes breathlessness; it can be painful. You have to be crazy to volunteer to do this. “
However, some of the staff of Cheltenham Ladies College, an independent girls school in the UK, recently did volunteer to take a crash course in the Can Can by training for two weeks in Paris and for one week back in Cheltenham.
They would be selected and taught by professionals and would do just one performance at their school.
An audition was held at Cheltenham. The staff began by trying to do high kicks. They were amazed at the flexibility of their instructor, Amanda. Then they attempted cartwheels. Some were excellent at this; others needed “a little bit more courage". One lady remarked: “I don't like being upside down; I can't do that kind of thing. "
The group were picked for enthusiasm, fitness and personality. These qualities are more important than technical perfection. Janet one of the instructors said: “There is no good being technically perfect if there is no energy. "
The instructors promised: “We are going to give it our best shot All we want is that they give it theirs. " 3 days of fitness training and running up steps came next in Paris followed by dancing lessons. Eric, one of the instructors, drilled them relentlessly in strength and endurance and flexibility before the dance training began. He constantly prodded them to improve: “Come on you have to do it better. "
They had to spend several hours a day of serious stretching and seriously hard physical work. They spent hours and hours of repeating and repeating. One of the Cheltenham ancillary staff, Jackie, lacked concentration. She was told “This is serious. You can't give in every time you feel like it. You have to keep going"
Later Jackie understood what the instructors were getting at. “I realised that I've been a bit of a quitter all my life but now I am trying to work through that".
One of the instructors became a little frustrated by working with amateurs: “I'm used to working with dancers who work for 5 or 6 hours non stop. Their (the staff's) concentration seems to go very quickly"
The volunteer dancers saw some of the best dancers in Paris and were inspired. They had to learn to walk in a sexy way with swinging hips. Some of them found this difficult because of years of inhibition.
After the high kicks they had to learn the famous corkscrew kick which again they found difficult. One member of staff was in tears when she saw herself on video. She felt she looked like an elephant. She was reassured that: “What looks good is your personality not your figure".
Janet, the ballet mistress was, at times, exasperated: “I've never known so many tears. Good grief; we're talking grown women here!" The splits caused even more pain and more injury. Amanda devoted two days to teaching the splits.
She told the teachers to concentrate: “Stop talking and listen. If not you will end up in hospital". She explained that their hands would reach the floor first so that they could control their splits. She also knew that most dancers have to dance with some kind of injury.
Complaints from the Cheltenham staff were not rare. One of them said: “I'm not flexible; it hurts up your back. " Another said: “I feel the lowest I've ever felt. " Another: “I don't feel prepared enough. I could do with another week of training. " One other: “It's been so painful every day!"
The instructors were worried that the staff would be demoralised when they had to dance the Can Can at the correct speed: “We are far from up to speed. When they go fast they may lose it. It can be demoralising when you think you know something and then you don't. "
The final performance at the school was only a week away. Another test faced staff: “Had they got the courage to show their new personality in front of their colleagues. " There were a lot of nerves. One member of staff feared falling over. Janet told her: “Falling on your ass happens to every one. All you can do to be not embarrassed is to do it smiling"
The performance at Cheltenham was a huge success. The staff had overcome all their problems to put on a great show. Their pupils were astonished at what their teachers had achieved: “The teachers were amazing. " said one. Another pupil commented: “We are very proud of our teachers. "
The teachers themselves had discovered new depth in their lives. The drama teacher commented: “If I was 4 inches taller I would become a dancer". Another teacher remarked: “It's not quite on a par with giving birth but it's nearly there. "
One teacher found the whole experience life changing. Her comment is the reason I have written so much about this Can Can story:
"It's something I'll take to the grave with me. It was a very special moment. I found it life changing. It makes you realize that you can do so many things if you just really go for it. But it can be painful and you have to work really hard. "
John Watson is an award winning teacher and martial arts instructor. He has recently written two books about achieving your goals and dreams. They can both be found on his website http://www.motivationtoday.com along with a daily motivational message.
The title of the first book is “36 Laws To Ignite Your Inner Power And Realize Your Dreams Now!" The book can be found at this URL: http://www.motivationtoday.com/36_laws.php
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