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also can-can, 1848, from French, possibly from can, a French children's word for "duck" (cf. canard), via some notion of "waddling" too obscure or obscene to attempt to disentangle here. Or perhaps from French cancan (16c.) "noise, disturbance," echoic of quacking.
lively and risque dance of French or Algerian origin, usually performed onstage by four women. Known for its high kicks in unison that exposed both the petticoat and the leg, the cancan was popular in Parisian dance halls in the 1830s and appeared in variety shows and revues in the 1840s. The cancan is in a lively 24 time and was at first danced to quadrille or galop music. Specific cancans were composed by Jacques Offenbach and other composers after about 1840. Later, the dance appeared in such works as Franz Lehar's operetta Die lustige Witwe (1905; The Merry Widow) and Cole Porter's musical comedy Can-Can (1953). It can also be seen in several films, including John Huston's Moulin Rouge (1952), a fictional account of the life of the artist perhaps most commonly associated with Montmartre, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec; Jean Renoir's classic French Cancan (1955); and Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge! (2001).