Dear readers, allow me to introduce Madame Brigitte Dupas, the legendary dancer of the Moulin Rouge. In the following conversation, Dupas unveils her past and present, the acquantances and life teaching experiences, her journey through freedom and wisdom.
Photographer Franck Glenisson embraces the beauty of an unforgetable woman, a lady who devoted her life to the art of dancing.
FilepMotwary: I am thankful for this great opportunity Franck has offered me to meet someone whose talent and thirst for life go hand in hand..Brigitte, you were born an artist. Yet, I want to focus on arts in general and the fact that you are French.Why do French appreciate arts so much?
BrigitteDupas: Thank you, I did exactly same thing! I thanked Franck for connecting us!
As far as the French are concerned on Art, I can only answer for myself. I don't think that French people are the only ones to appreciate art in such great extent. We are lucky in Europe to be free and let any one to express himself. We have an enormously rich past in any way, despite all the wars in between the years.
I think that art questions us, even if sometimes we deny it, we discover another way to live life through it. Sometimes art makes us dream of a better world, bringing us back bits of positive nostalgia, memories of good moments. How could we possibly live without artists?
Filep: Indeed! How was your childhood like? What were your biggest obsessions as a young girl in the North of France where you were born?
Brigitte: My childhood was "a pain in the head". It’s only people who had a teacher mother will understand what I am talking about! My childhood was about schoolwork only. Back in the mid-1950’s, there was no space for fun, no playing and I was obsessed in pleasing her as I was scared at the same time of losing her.. She was a hard woman, never showing her tenderness even if she loved us. She had a heavy education and following a family tradition. My father was nice, always organizing nice birthdays and Christmas festivities at home.
Filep: Brigitte, at what age it was that you realized you were born with something different than what you family background offered to you and how did you breakthrough?
Brigitte: Quite soon, I became the "Mouton à 5 pattes" (THE SHEEP HAS FIVE LEGS) as I did nothing like the others!! My wishes had the eternal same answer from my mom: " First comes school and your exams”. And I waited the years to pass to reach 18 and freed myself.
It has been awfully long and difficult to break through! When my father died after years of suffering, my mother obliged me to become a teacher like herself. At the time, she could not provide me with any further studies as she still had my younger brother to educate. Of course the whole situation didn't not permit anything culpability to leave her as an option..
Filep: And then you find yourself in Paris, following your dream…
Brigitte: Yes finally in Paris! Before leaving my family, with no job in the pocket I paid an internship to learn secretarial studies. Besides teaching, I knew nothing except little jobs that I was doing on weekends to save some money for my coming in Paris.
At the time, on my day-offs, I would go to Paris in search for a place to sleep. Even back then, the City Of Light was expensive and to find a place proved to be a difficult task. Plus I did not know anyone and I was still jobless.
Finally, even late, I was able to breath again and ready to go through my own choice of adventure without complaining or asking help from anyone, even from my family. It was on that moment I knew I would not go back to the North, whatever would happen. I was FREE!
Filep: What were the difficulties you came across?
Brigitte: It has been terrible, as my little money savings was swallowed very quickly. The salary from my job in the National Education was "peanuts". So I started taking dancing classes even if they were so expensive, it was something that made me happy.
The rest of the time, I would wake in the morning and check paper ads for something extra. I remember the struggle of waiting for hours to get a vacant phone cabin free and make the call job application for an appointment. I was always nicely dressed, wearing my make-up and heels on the metro. It was the job-searching-waltz, that’s what I call it!
And absolutely, no one wanted me except this position I found as a hostess in nightclub in Pigalle! I was even refused to work in factories due to my lack of experience while teaching brought be as well nothing in my pocket. I would work here and there for a month and then back to basis again. Days would go by finding me answering newspaper ads.. Though it didn’t get me anywhere.
There were moments when it was payday and my boss would keep my money to pay his doctor bill, electricity or phone. From there I moved into hosting: I was welcoming the customers, answering the phone in any language you can imagine or typing letters for the boss. Then came a job at the known Hotel-chain Intercontinental, where I had a hysterical woman on my back the whole time. Things became uncomfortable so I decided to let it go.
It was the time when I discovered SEX. My naivety was in full blossom, thinking love was the same thing as sex. The best lesson I’ve learned! Men were only interested to show me around as their private dancer. Of course I played the game cause I enjoyed it. For the next three years I was “falling in love”, going to dancing classes full of hope. “NO’s” at castings became a normality but I would never stop trying.
You see, there were so many dancers at the time, all of us wanting the same thing: to become stars!
Filep: How was Paris at the time, as a city for a young woman like you?
Brigitte: Absolutely F A N T A S T I C! So many temptations to come across and above all, men! Like every other girl of my age, I was dreaming of an easy life, living in a nice comfortable place, making love the whole day, going to exhibitions, concerts, eating the best of cuisine.
And dancing! I wanted to be on stage, feeling and expressing love and desire through my dancing.
I loved the beauty of Paris. My class was early in the morning. Then at lunchtime, I would take the metro to another class and right after that I was off to work. The metro was a timewaster so I got my first bike, an old, second-hand Vespa I found in the North. Again, it was a feeling of freedom but on the other side…Paris was cold to drive around in the winter…
Filep: Did it take you a long time before you signed your first contract? Would you like to share this story with me?
Brigitte: Three whole years! Stupid I was, I should have lied and not say that I had never been on stage for dancing. My honesty killed me.
So they were scared to send me in big show as you can imagine. New to all this and alone, I had to learn the whole show with one dancer as they never rehearsed with the whole group of dancers! At that time, something new happened to me: I found out I was pregnant!!
Back then, it was forbidden to get an abortion in France and there was definitely no way I would tell my mom or anyone else.
I needed quite a lot of money. I went to London, found a cheap room only to realize that it was a brothel. When I found someone else’s blood on the sheets, disgusted I stormed out in search for something better in the middle of the night. Somewhere in the suburbs of London, I met a doctor who agreed to operate me but he made clear that the minute the operation was done I would have to leave, as he didn’t want to have any problems with authorities or anything of that sort…
When he was done, he woke me up, I begged him to let me rest one hour before daylight but he refused. Alone, I took the metro back. It was a true moment of weakness and loneliness. There I was, in a big city where again nobody knew me. I had no tenderness from anyone, even my boyfriend who discharged himself from any responsibility whatsoever. Alone.
Dancing is about strong will, so I picked up my pieces and continued with my life immediately. Unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to have children again.
Filep: So, from Paris to Madrid.. How was that experience?
Brigitte: In Madrid I was at Florida Park, a luxurious place literally in a park where all the stars were going. For the story’s sake, Julio Iglésias came once, all the girls were so happy, we all wanted him, looking for a smile, our eyes to cross, a kiss and of course all the rest on the menu. I had never before experienced such admiration, for a man, worshipped by women so badly.
Rich Spanish ladies would throw their most expensive watches and diamond necklaces to him. It was hysterical! Such a charming seducer his was. At the end, he kissed all of us and it was the topic of our chats for the weeks to come. Naturally, when the show was over, then came reality, which seemed, much more special than before.
Any woman that worked in the night was treated like a prostitute which caused a lot of pain, you know… A lot of suffering for one’s ego.
I even received eggs on my face and from that moment on I decided to always take a taxi.
During that time, I was sharing a small flat with an English dancer named Louise who had the particularity to seduce the boyfriends of others only to do nothing after, seducing only for the fun of it!
In that place it was just impossible to sleep. There was so much noise with " the death of the bulls”. At that time, there was a "cerrador" (porter) who kept the keys of the building. One night, a bunch of stupid guys were screaming, willing to come inside. Very upset, I asked them to stop, otherwise, I would throw water at them!
They paid no attention, and continued in frenzy. So, there went the water!!
Sometime later, I heard lovely men voices outside my window. I stick my head out and there they were, five good-looking musicians all-charming, dressed in nice typical suits of the previous century. I threw them coins and they said that it wasn’t money they were after but a drink! Louise opened the door.
We got along easily, even if Louise did not speak a word of Spanish. I said to them, “Sorry, but we have nothing to offer to you, except water!” only to get an answer that I will never forget: ”Oh, thank you, watered us already!!!
A big moment of solitude...Five strong men, two young girls and Louise who didn’t know what the hell was going on. In my bad Spanish, I apologized. OUF !
After that, the same company sent me to Portugal, with the condition that I’d be the driver for all the other dancers since I was the only one with a driving license. I wasn’t paid extra for that so my boss didn’t have to hire a driver.
The road-trip began, from one place to the other. I fell in love with a good-looking Portuguese who could speak French and English beautifully.
Back to my life story as whole, I can say now that I was never loved for being me, Brigitte. I was only desired for pleasure. There was a lack of confidence in me… by myself.
Filep: How was Japan finally?
Brigitte: It was terrible! That was around 1974.
I hated Japan, I was so miserable. Bad hotel with one bathroom for two rooms. I found it impossible being with the other girls 27/7. Food was bad too as well as expensive. We were not allowed to have any contact with me and I ended up hitting my head on the wall every day because the ceiling was too low. Can you imagine?
The direction took our passports, so there was no way of escape. It was a difficult experience as difficult it was when the show was finished and we were travelling for a new cabaret, far away. I was constantly thinking it would be for three long months and forced myself to be patient but when suddenly they announced that we had to work for our papers and stay another three months I nearly died.
South Korea has been a respiration as Korean people were nice, more human. Superb casinos with several shows from different companies…It was there that I experienced being watched by a woman client, instead of a man, putting my stockings on.
Though I was never attracted by the same sex, I felt for them, poor women. The men were preparing for war with North Korea.
There were only three shows per day as light was not allowed after 20:00 because of the fear for war. When I went back home, I was five kg less and decided to stop touring for a while. I took a third-class train ticket and was the only woman along with workers returning home to their families. I deserted my lover even if the passion for him was the same.
It was the beginning of revolution and the dictator was refusing to die. After my visit, I was asked to work at the Riviera. Again started going to auditions with other companies, passed from castings and ended dancing in the nicest casino in Cannes, the San Remo and Monte Carlo. When I arrived at the Ruhl casino to sign my contract, the manager who was the lover of the star of the revue, turned the key inside his office door and forced me to follow him. I lied on the fact of having a boyfriend only not to offend him.
He became furious, treating he would fire me and thankfully, an American guy who was rehearsing heard the screams and knocked on the locked door. As he couldn’t enter he told the manager that if he didn’t leave me alone he would tell everything to his mistress and I was finally released!
From there, the Moulin Rouge came to Monte Carlo and I passed from another audition!
Monaco in the winter was terrible with only one empty discotheque! One of my contracts came to an end and I asked the choreographer to send me to the Moulin Rouge in Paris. She refused proposing me a new contract in Monte Carlo. I couldn’t stay any longer and 15 days later she called me back saying it was finally OK for Paris. In fact she faked it only because she wanted me to stay with her and not knowing how to keep me, she decided that my hips were too small and that I had to go through an operation to be like Jane Mansfield. Such a crazy story. Of course I refused.
The late 70’s was about true glamour. So much of that in those days! The real thing you know? I remember once in Monte Carlo we were two girls, chosen for a dancing fashion show on a catwalk above a swimming pool presenting Jewels from " FRED" of Place Vendôme. We were announced by the lovely and iconic, beautiful Princess Grace Kelly! Each girl had two bodyguards in case we would lose an earring.
Such a wonderful, fabulous night to remember in the fabulous discotheque with an open roof under the stars, the real ones this time..
I did other shows in the biggest known cabarets with the same love and pride but a terrible accident left me lying in bed for a whole year with my back completely fucked up.
I swallowed my tears, suffering and loneliness and succeeded to dance again. Everything but the French cancan, which I loved so much.
Today I still dance in movies and for my own pleasure. In resume, and I think it s true for all artists, this need to be loved by the whole world.
Filep: Certainly there were glorious moments in your career as a performer. How did you handle glory itself? What did you gain from it?
Brigitte: I just loved it incredibly much and I lived those moments fully and intensively
There are moments that one feels to deserve the love you get back from the public; and when flowers and invitations arrive in your dressing room, addressed only for you, you recognised the desire surrounding you. It was a dream come true for me and I am grateful to those who loved me. To the whole world!
Filep: Is there a certain smell that you always remember? Smell is linked to strong memory..?
Brigitte:So true! I love the perfume of powder in the dressing room. I thought I would never smell it again until I came across some perfumed candles from Guerlain. My favorite “dressing room”, the most intimate place in the world, where I would place all the range of make-up by Dior in front of me and prepare for my performance.
But it is not only smells I favourite. It’s the sensuality of emotion that always interested me when I was getting ready, the procedure…you know? Or when I was running up the stairs, peeking behind the velvet curtains to see the audience waiting for me to go out and spread my magic!
Those memories are a melting pot of smells, faces, music, noise, moments, emotions, stories… All together and never separated.
Filep: What is your relation to your body today?
Brigitte: I am still too hard, and too demanding to it and sometimes it pays me back with suffering. I am truly grateful to what my body has helped me to achieve. There is some sort of rituals I follow to keep the same weight all these years, which becomes more and more difficult as time passes and since I love too much to cook and bake cakes and chocolates. And I love wine, champagne…
Recently I went to a movie audition for " Etienne Chatillez". They were looking for any age of professional dancers and we would be casted by the best choreographer Molly Molly in three weeks time. So many people applied, from the whole world and it was nice to see some familiar faces and meet new ones.
But, some of the dancers that were incredible back in the day have now gained weight and I almost didn’t recognize some of them. You need to love your body if you want it to love you back and that’s why I always do my best to keep fit and full of energy.
Filep: What are your regrets? And what has this life taught you?
Brigitte: Despite the many sacrifices, I have NO REGRETS at all!!
Photography and Make Up by Franck Glenisson©. Extra photos from the personal archive of Madame Brigitte Dupas.