Can-Can history comes to life at Wild West City

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  • From left, Can-Can girls Katie Benson, Debi Schnellbacher, Sam Schuman, and Kaity Schnellbacher

BYRAM — You watch the old western TV shows and movies and invariably there is a scene in the saloon. Cowboys are swigging drinks, tables are filled with card players, and a piano player whips up a lively tune as Can-Can girls perform a high kicking number on stage.

At Wild West City in Byram Township, the Can-Can girls perform every day the park is open on a stage situated on the western theme park's Main Street.

Three of the "regulars" make it a family affair. Mother and daughter Debi and Kaity Schnelbacher often take the stage together, as does Katie Benson, whose family owns Wild West City.

"It's a lot of fun and people really get a kick out of it," said Benson, with no pun intended. "Can-Can girls were very popular in their time, that's for sure. It's a part of the old west history even if its somewhat exaggerated on the old shows."

Interestingly the history of Can-Can girls dates back to France in the 1840s where men also originally performed the dance with females. It became a staple in the United States in the late 1860s, particularly in the west. By then, only women were Can-Can girls. Performing as a Can-Can is athletic. Done traditionally, it is a high-energy, physically demanding dance that oftentimes features high kicks, splits and cartwheels.

The dance was considered scandalous in its day, and for a while, there were attempts to repress it. This may have been partly because in the 19th century, women wore pantalettes, and a high kick could be unintentionally revealing. Occasionally, people dancing the Can-Can were arrested, but there is no actual record of it being banned, as some accounts have claimed.

Can-Can performances at Wild West City are one of many historical aspects to the old west that can be seen there, with re-creations of notable events a big part of a typical day, along with stage coach rides, museum artifacts, live entertainment at the Golden Nugget Saloon, and special guest attractions every weekend.

For more about Wild West City, go to or call 973-347-8900.

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