A Conversation with Caroline Renno, Moulin Rouge Dancer

moulin-rougeThe name Moulin Rouge is synonymous with the word cabaret. It’s glitz and glam and lights and costumes and feathers and make-up and false eyelashes and the whole deal. There’s acrobats and comedians and jugglers and singers and mimi-ponies and snakes and a whole variety of acts. Without a doubt though, the main attraction is the dancers. It’s just wouldn’t be the same without the girls!

So what’s it like to be on that stage? Night after night, behind the glow of the stage lights and the flash of the cameras? Surely everyone has an impression of what it might be like. Are the costumes heavy (yes)? Is it tiring (of course)? Is it fun(Absolutely)? A million questions. I had the chance to sit down with Caroline Renno, who has been dancing at the Moulin Rouge since leaving England. She agreed to answer some of my more pressing questions on the life of a dancer.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background? Where you are from and how you got to where you are today?

I was born in a small coastal town in the northeast of England. Mum and Dad took me to dance school at 2 and-a-half years old. I was a quiet little girl until I got on stage! I studied tap, modern jazz and ballet. I competed around the country bringing home many trophies! My parents thought dance was going to be a hobby, they didn’t have any idea that I’d fallen in love with it and decided to study it professionally.

How and when did you decide you wanted to dance professionally?

At 16, I was accepted into a top theatre college. Being surrounded by so many talented, passionate dancers, I realized that it wasn’t going to be an easy career. The competition was going to be tough but I was determined to one day be paid for what I loved to do! At 18, I was offered my first contract as a professional dancer.

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What is the audition process like for Moulin Rouge? Can you explain the different stages you must pass through in order to be selected?

I worked in cabarets in England, gaining experience for my dream job: The Moulin Rouge!!! When I heard they were holding auditions in London, I knew my chance had come. The advertisement for the audition stated that you had to be 5’9″. I never realized that there were so many tall dancers – hundreds turned up!!! The audition lasted for hours, you had to be tall, flexible, able to walk, kick, cartwheel and have overall good training. I was over the moon to be accepted! I couldn’t believe I was going to be working at the most famous cabaret in the world!!!

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What is a typical day in the life of a professional dancer? 

Working as a dancer is tiring! We work 2 shows a night, 6 nights a week! We have to arrive at work at least an hour before the first show which begins at 9pm. We have to apply our own make-up and warm-up. We finish the second show at 1:30am. We have to make sure we get enough rest, exercise, stay supple and have a healthy diet.

You work with dancers from all over the world and often for a limited amount of time. How do you handle the constantly changing dynamic? 

I feel so lucky to be working at the Moulin Rouge and I’ve met some amazing dancers and made some great friends. Dancers at the Moulin are from all over the world. Many of the dancers leave after a few months to go back to their country and family, others fall in love with Paris and the Moulin and stay. It’s so difficult making friends and saying goodbye, especially when they live so far away! Thank god for Facebook and Skype.

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Your time with Moulin Rouge has afforded you the opportunity to travel to several different countries with the show. Any favorite locations or memories?

I’ve been very lucky to travel with the Moulin Rouge to different countries. My most amazing experience was a tour to Brazil for the carnival. We were treated like stars – I can’t explain how amazing that was!

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What advice would you give to other aspiring dancers just starting out?

My advise for any dancer just starting out is to follow your dreams, work hard for what you want, work on your weaknesses and don’t give up, even after an injury!

I understand the physical demands of dancing provide a limited time span for a career. Any ideas for what you would like to do in the future after Moulin Rouge?

A lot of dancers choose a complete different career path after retiring as a dancer. I’ve never wanted to do anything else but dance, and when I can’t do that anymore, I will teach everything I have learned and experienced and hope to help others make a life as a dancer.

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And for the traveler in us all, any recommendations for a “must see” list from your travels?

I’ve travelled quite a lot in my career but often not been able to soak everything up as I have been working. A “must see” is definitely the Moulin Rouge in Paris!!!!

{Images courtesy of Caroline Renno}

  • How amazing, and good for her for following her dreams and making them a reality. I had no idea the dancers had to be so tall!!

    • Yes! And if the girls are borderline, they dance in higher shoes. I think I would definitely trip and fall at least a couple times if I tried to do that!!

      • chloe

        Hello,
        I could not help myself reading the article as well as the exchanges which are fascinating! I am a student at the University of London and I am currently writting my MA dissertation about female performers and The Moulin Rouge, would it be possible to ask you a few questions about your experience ?

        • Hi Chloe! I never actually danced at Moulin Rouge, so I probably wouldn’t be too much help in that department unfortunately. Sounds like a fascinating topic though – good luck with it! 🙂

  • Wow! What an amazing adventure they have!

    • Isn’t it? They really are treated like celebrities around Paris – pretty cool deal!

  • Lisa OBrien

    Back in my day we didn`t have to be as tall. I danced at the Moulin Rouge in the last year of the show,”Femmes,Femmes,Femmes” from Dec 1986 to Jan 1988. We auditioned at Pineapple Studios in Covent Garden and the ad in The Stage newspaper said female dancers minimum height 5FT 7In [1M 70].I was only 5FT 6 In tall,but I was still accepted. I was very lucky. I wouldn`t get in now. It was the best year of my life.

    • How cool!! It sounds like an incredible experience. I’m 5FT 6 myself, maybe just over that. I think many of the girls stay for a year and then move on, especially the ones from Australia. I got to know several of the girls myself when I lived in Paris, through a friend of friend of a guy I dated for about 5 minutes lol. Congrats on being accepted!! 🙂

      • Lisa OBrien

        Thank you. Because i was there on the very last night of the show,all the dressers were packing away all the costumes as we finished each routine But about a week earlier I “borrowed”[ahem]my red can can shoes and just wore a spare pair that was lying around for the remaining week. So I have the Can Can shoes I danced in at the Moulin Rouge for almost a year and I will treasure them forever.!! Miss Doris wanted taller girls for the new show,Formidable,as it was to e the Centenary Revue,but I had already been offered a contract in Japan anyway. Plus,I was afraid if i stayed longer it might not have held the same magic for me.I kept thinking of the singer,Steve Flanagan.By the end of Femmes, he hated it and couldn`t wait to leave. I wanted to leave when I still very much loved the place and it was the right thing to do. Plus,on the back of the Moulin`s name I never needed to audition anywhere ever again. Choreographers would find out where you had worked and offer you a contract there and then,which was a nice thing.Although never having to audition again does make you very lazy.!! BTW I don`t know if you ever go on Pinterest,but I have a page on there called Moulin Rouge Past and Present where you will be able to see the shoes, plus lots of really old and rare MR programmes I have collected.

        • What a cool story!!! I think it was very wise of you to go before it lost its magic for you. And you got to keep a part of it with you forever!! Besides the memories of course. 😉 Japan sounds really cool though too! I know a lot of the dancers now end up teaching dance or some sort of fitness class afterwards. How great that you’ve been able to make a lasting career out of you experience at Moulin. I’ll definitely check out the Pinterest page – sounds fascinating!!