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Saturday, July 24 – Sunday, July 25, 2004

Can-can girl who kicks up a storm MANDY STORM CAN-CAN DANCER, 43

My grandmother was a gipsy. She was the last of our family to be born in a gipsy caravan and she later settled with one of the oldest families in Sussex, who were millers. She was a real light in my life and was very encouraging. She threw her heart into everything. During my childhood, I was a tall, tree-climbing tomboy. I wanted to see the Seven Wonders of the World. I’ve seen the pyramids, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon and the Eiffel Tower several times. I’ve been passionate about the can-can since the age of ten. I already took ballet and tap dance lessons. When I was 14, I visited Paris, which symbolised the can-can for me. Two years ago, I mentioned to a group of friends that I wanted to perform the can-can. My friend Michelle suggested we should do it together. I’d learned the steps from films and I already had the music. It started from there and just snowballed. I started training the troupe using yoga and ballet warm-up exercises and took advice from Michelle’s sister, who’s a professional dancer in London. I bullied everyone into doing stretches so they could manage the high kicks and splits. It took a year of hard work for some of the girls to do a high kick. The dancers are aged from 20 to 40 and are various shapes and sizes. We wanted the girls to be different heights as it’s more visually interesting than choreographing a straight line. My name in the troupe is La Bohème, which means unconventional, while Bohemian means gipsy. We rehearse weekly in an Eastbourne pub as members of the troupe come from Bexhill, Hastings and Brighton. Everyone has an input these days because their confidence has grown and they can see how the audience responds. We have our own individual steps – for example, one girl does a cartwheel and another a classic leg shake. We can do the can-can in Western saloon-style with guns, which we perform in the Pussycat Club. We once did a techno version at a Sister Bliss gig. Other themes are Bollywood and the Absinthe Green Fairy. We’re choreographing a new version of the can-can based on a Victorian parlour theme. We’re also doing Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ay; although we’ve changed the music and lyrics to make it saucy. We recently performed it in the Spiegeltent as part of the Brighton Festival. We enjoyed dancing on the Victorian pier in Eastbourne and at the World Aids Day behind the Pavilion. The high point of our career was performing on the Fire & Dance Stage at Glastonbury. Walking past the festival goers in our outfits, while they were lying around in the field, was a bizarre experience. You do tend to get a following – both male and female. Some of the men can feel intimidated and think you’re sleazy, while others consider the can-can empowering. It was a huge, influential movement in its time. We make the outfits for the dance ourselves. I taught the girls how to create the skirts and lacing. We’ve recently started to branch out beyond the Victorian theme, with the colours and materials becoming more individual. I’ve also made my own corsets for the past ten years. Three years ago, I went on an 18th-Century, corset-making course at the London College of Fashion and Design. I couldn’t dance in the corsets I learned to make there so I modified them to be more comfortable. I’m influenced by anybody who’s passionate and talented. I love Oscar Wilde, who was a witty, clever man. He created and lost his entire social scene. As for modern-day influences, I admire Madonna. She has reinvented herself many times and came from nowhere to be an amazing presence. She has a special quality. I love almost all music from the Fifties to dance to: PJ Harvey, Hole, 9 Inch Nails, Faithless. I also enjoy some classical music, which is great for choreography with its peaks and lows. I’m fascinated by the Victorian era, which was a beautiful age. There was so much going on in terms of poetry, art, religion and the Industrial Revolution. The pace of life was fast and the contradictions massive: The Victorians covered up table legs and the upper classes were prim on the face of it, yet they had opium dens and lived in such opulence and decadence. Besides Les Ooh La Las, I run a business called Glitzy’s, putting on make-up parties for six to 12-year-old girls with my niece, who is a beautician. I also do stilt walking and fire spinning with a different group of friends. I’ve done lots of different things in my life. I started the troupe because I just wanted to dance. It’s a dream come true, despite having its ups and downs. Seven, strong-willed, powerful women can make life difficult when making choices but everyone is passionate about the can-can and we want to have as many experiences as possible and enjoy the lifestyle! interview: Jo Chipchase picture: Alan Jones

it’s my life

Weekend 3


Argus - My Life - Mandy Storm