They called her "Bluebell" or "Miss Bluebell" because of the colour of her eyes. From this week on, the Paris Lido remembers the Irish-born founder of the leggy troupe - Margaret Kelly, born 100 years ago.
"She rehearsed the girls into the 1980s, she was amazing, always immaculate, she always looked gorgeous," Australian former Bluebell girl Annette Hirsch told AFP.
"The first time I saw her she was in her late 50s but didn't look it. She'd kick her leg up high and tell the girls to do the same."
From next weekend, spectators at the cabaret will be given a glimpse of Kelly training the dancers in a short film tribute to the woman who created the legendary troupe and trained most of the 10,000 "Bluebell Girls" in feathers who have since kicked high.
Born in Dublin on June 24, 1910, Kelly turned up at the celebrated Champs Elysees cabaret with her girls after the war, accompanied by US choreographer Donn Arden.
Hirsch remembers her as "a survivor", an orphan girl who left Ireland in the 1930s and ended up in France after a stint dancing in Nazi Germany. The Lido, which opened in 1946, spotted her at the Folies Bergere, where she created a troupe, and talked her into moving over two years later.
"You had to be at least 1 metre 78 (five feet eight) tall at the time," said Hirsch. Today's standard for the girls' height is slightly less, at 1 metre 75 (five feet seven).
"They were all very tall girls and well-proportioned, and each girl gave out a unique aura. Bluebell liked girls with personality on and off stage, people who were a bit feisty," like herself.
She was tough but respected her girls, said Hirsh. "She fought her whole life. She could be adorable or an iron woman."
Miss Bluebell died in 2004 aged 94 after a 40-year reign over the Lido's exaggeratedly leggy women, more glamorous, more sensual, though with less bounce than the shorter can-can kicking dancers of Paris' equally renowned Moulin Rouge.
"Miss Bluebell made an impact on the history of music-hall and the Lido," said the cabaret's current choreographer Pierre Rambert. "She invented the idea of the untouchable 'showgirl', who was an accomplished female artist with a rigorous spirit of discipline."
"We still hire long-legged dancers with well-proportioned bodies and with personality," he told AFP. "If you look for personality, the show is a success."
Rambert auditions wannabe showgirls several times a year in Paris, New York, London and Las Vegas, and gets 50-odd spontaneous applications a week.
There is no age limit, with the troupe currently made up of two generations of dancers from 14 different countries, several of them English-speaking.
Hirsch said that many of the girls like her had trained in classical ballet since their childhood but had been booted out of class for being too tall. "I measured 1.78 at 13, and at the time that was far too tall to dance with a boy partner."
Under Kelly's ground rules the "Bluebell Girls" must "continue to present the same technical and physical attributes as the day they were hired" - meaning no extra weight and constant rehearsals. To encourage the 45-member troupe to stick to the rules, the Lido pays half of a dancer's gym expenses.
Hirsch, a New South Wales native now in her 50s, originally auditioned at 15. She danced at the Lido for 11 years, never left Paris and is now studying psychology.
She will be among hundreds of ex "Bluebell" dancers from four generations to gather in Paris on June 24 to remember the founder's birthday - a date posted on Facebook as well as on www.showbizfriends.com.Reuse content