Parisians get backstage pass to Moulin Rouge

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The Independent Online

The Moulin Rouge, the Parisian nightspot celebrated for more than a century for its scantily clad dancing girls, will unveil secret parts of its own anatomy to the public this weekend.

The cabaret club is celebrating its 120th anniversary by throwing its backstage open to all-comers as part of France's annual "heritage days".

Every third weekend in September, hidden or private areas of historic or official buildings all over France, including the Elysée Palace and the Louvre, are opened to the public. For the first time this year, the Moulin – the cradle of cancan dancing – will allow tours of its dressing rooms and backstage areas.

"As one of the oldest Parisian cabarets, the Moulin Rouge is part of our national heritage," said its spokeswoman, Fanny Rabasse. "It is a festive and emblematic place which has its own history like any other monument." For the open weekend, the original dresses of the first "Cancan Queen", La Goulue, and another celebrated 19th-century dancer, Jane Avril, have been excavated from the club's stock and will be placed on display. Each is worth €8,000 (£7,170).

For a few minutes, visitors can enter the shiny, feathered world of the Moulin Rouge. They will be permitted to set foot under the spotlights of the main stage, where the Doriss Girls – mostly British and Australian rather than French – perform the cancan or appear in bird feathers and glitter. Amongst the secrets on display will be the former entrée des artistes, a tiny staircase to the backstreets used by generations of the Moulin's dancers and cabaret artists. Visitors will also be allowed to climb a larger flight of stairs to the dancers' floor, which is usually forbidden to men.

But the girls themselves will not be at home. "We cannot reveal all our secrets to the public. We have to keep some of the mystery and glamour," said Ms Rabasse.