Sporting bright-rouge lipstick, sparkling Swarovski earrings and a diamond-encrusted bikini, Claudine Van Den Bergh looks every inch a showgirl. While a stream of glamorous dancers race around the dressing room in perilously high heels, she remains calm, elegant and poised. For her, this is merely a typical working day as a principal dancer for one of the most prestigious cabarets in the world—the Moulin Rouge, Paris.

Almost a quarter of a million bottles of champagne are cracked open every year at this renowned venue, but, make no mistake, it’s not all glamour and decadence. It takes a month of intensive training to master the show’s choreography before a dancer is even allowed to perform on its historic stage.

Principal dancer Claudine Van Den Bergh, photo by Bertrand Royer/Moulin Rouge

What attracted you to becoming a dancer at the Moulin Rouge?

My mom is a classical dance teacher, so it was handed down to me and it’s something I’ve been passionate about all my life. Paris is definitely one of the most liberal cities in the world. It’s a huge haven for artists and creatives.

What is the process to be a performer? 

[For me], it was a gruelling four-hour-long audition process. Auditions are held all over the world, so they go far to find the best. They’re looking for tall, classically trained dancers.

What are some of the favourite costumes you’ve worn during the show?

All the diamonds on the costumes are Swarovski. We have an [atelier] here that makes the costumes on-site—it’s hidden in one of the many little corridors of the Moulin Rouge. I love the Medusa act, which links to Greek mythology. We have a tank and one of our girls, Olga, swims underwater with snakes. I play the part of Medusa, so I wear [a silver fascinator with 3D snakes spiralling out of it].

What are the biggest challenges you face on stage?

Our finale tableau [includes] the French cancan, which is eight minutes of intense kicks, cart-wheels and jump splits, and involves serious training. It’s very fast and very technical.

How has the cabaret evolved over the years?

I’ve seen all the Moulin Rouge archives—it’s important that I understand the history because that adds richness to my work. It’s evolved and it continues to evolve. The standard just keeps getting higher. Now we have modern acts to entertain between each tableau—rollerbladers, gymnasts, ventriloquists, circus performers and medleys. Plus, there are the performers dancing underwater. Only the traditional cancan has remained the same.

What is the most common misconception about the show? 

It’s not burlesque—it’s more like a West End musical. There’s a huge amount of talent and effort that goes into it, and I think the crowd realizes that by the end.

This story appears in the April 2019 issue of WestJet Magazine