When we think of Irish dancers, we think of Riverdance, "Ballet Ireland" or dancers in musicals and pantomimes. The glitzy world of French cabaret doesn’t automatically come to mind.

However, Irish women have been answering “anseo” on the stages of the most acclaimed Parisian cabarets since the Belle Époque!

On 10 September, two Dublin sisters, Claudine and Isabelle van den Bergh Cooke, shook out their can-can petticoats and went back to work at the Moulin Rouge. The legendry cabaret, which debuted in 1889, reopened after being shut for 18 months due to Covid restrictions.

The Moulin Rouge is one of Paris's most recognizable icons. Parisians and tourists alike are delighted to see that the lights have been switched back on at the iconic windmill in Pigalle, just down the hill from Montmartre.

The "Féerie Show" is played to a full house, twice a night, six nights a week. There are 80 Doriss dancers (named after Haug Doriss, 1927-2014, the mythical German choreographer and Moulin Rouge ballet mistress) in the show, hailing from 14 different countries. 450 people work behind the scenes to ensure the show sparkles! The budget for the show is estimated at €10 million, including over €4 million for the spectacular costumes.

Claudine and Isabelle are the only siblings in the show at present. "We are looking for more Irish women and men to come and join us here. Long-legged high-kicks, great stage presence, and bright personalities are what’s in vogue for dancers wishing to audition for a cabaret that is world-famous. To be part of something this famous is really an honor.”

Claudine, 29, has been dancing since she was two years old and has been with the Moulin Rouge for over nine years. “I’m one of three principal dancers in the show and in one of my numbers, I interpret the legendry 'La Goulue' (1866-1929) whom artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec painted when she danced the French can-can and was star of the Moulin Rouge. In my role, I step out of a fixed choreography and get to freely interpret 'La Goulue', who in the eyes of French people symbolizes freedom”.

Isabelle, 24, found out she had successfully auditioned for the company while she was studying for her Leaving Certificate just over five years ago. For her, it was "a dream come true." She was delighted to join Claudine in Paris, and since lockdown has also developed a passion for photography and loves her morning walks in Paris.

There is also an Irish dancer at the Lido de Paris cabaret. Like Isabelle and Claudine, she carries forward the feathers of Margaret Kelly (1910-2004), the famous Irish showgirl aka "Miss Bluebell." Kelly started first as a dancer and became a choreographer at the Folies Bergères cabaret, before moving to the Lido with her troupe of Bluebell Girls. Kelly’s innovative style of choreography left a firm imprint on Parisian cabaret stages.

Irish couture fashion designer, Sean Byrne, is busy putting finishing touches to his 2022 Lisdoonvarna - Paris Showgirl Dress, honoring past and present Irish showgirls in Paris, along with celebrating how dancing has always been entwined in the Irish way of life.

The two beautiful Irish sisters, dancing in the 132-year-old Parisian cabaret, personify a “retro-current glamour” Byrne wishes to capture. He also fondly remembers the “Spa Wells” mythical ballroom in Lisdoonvarna, where ladies, in beautiful dresses, demonstrate social dancing expertise.

“My dress will elongate the wearer, and allow her to display graceful arms and walk with the confidence of a French cabaret showgirl.” Byrne’s dress will be accessorized with Parisian showgirl accessories and promises to be a French-Irish fusion of style.

Byrne said, “it’s inspiring that Irish women have been part of the Parisian cabaret and music hall scene since the Belle Époque”. Like "La Goulue", May Belford (1872-1929) an Irish actress and Parisian cabaret singer, was a favorite of Toulouse-Lautrec, who painted her several times.

The pandemic forced the French cabarets to shut in March 2020. The Moulin Rouge is one of the oldest cabarets in Paris and it was the longest period in history, since 1915, that the show just didn’t “go on”.

However, Paris’s cabaret life is now well and truly born again with rhinestones and sequins, and massive feathers a flurry. People are so keen to rediscover the shows, and ooh là là, a night out at the Moulin Rouge, is the perfect way to celebrate the thrilling, sparkling return of liberty.

Isabelle pointed out “there is nothing like the Moulin Rouge cabaret in Ireland, it’s quite jazzy, massive plumes, diamonds, burlesque headpieces, and long gloves. It’s all very French." Claudine is hoping that the red windmill will once again be lit up in green lights for Saint Patrick’s Day 2022!

In Paris, we are so proud of Claudine and Isabelle, who originally hail from Sutton, North Dublin. They both gracefully combine the role of ambassadors of Parisian glamour with being Irish cultural ambassadors!

You can watch a trailer for the Féerie Show at Moulin Rouge here:

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