A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Cancan
CANCAN, a word applied by modern slang to a peculiar way of dancing at public balls, which became popular in Paris shortly after 1830, and has even been brought on the stage in operettas. It is neither a national dance nor a characteristic step; but a mere succession of extravagant jumps, with loose and obscene gestures, introduced into the usual figures of the quadrille. According to Francisque Michel it is called cancan either because the performers are imitating the walk of a goose (or rather a duck—cane), or because they quack like that animal. It is more probably from the Latin word quamquam, a fruitful subject of squabbles in the schools of the Middle Ages, and written indifferently 'cancan' and 'quanquan.' French people still employ the expression 'faire un grand cancan de quelque chose,' in order to say 'much ado about nothing.'
[ G. C. ]