Moulin Rouge dancers take it to the street for 130th birthday

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Moulin Rouge dancers performed outside the Paris cabaret for its 130th anniversary on Sunday

Moulin Rouge dancers performed outside the Paris cabaret to mark its 130th anniversary on Sunday

Thousands of people massed outside the Moulin Rouge caberet on Sunday night for a fireworks and French can-can extravaganza to mark the 130th anniversary of the storied Montmartre institution.

Police blocked off the boulevard for the event, which began with music and a light show projected onto the iconic red windmill, recounting the venue's Belle Epoque origins.

A sole dancer then appeared on the roof, braving the autumn chill in one of the caberet's skimpy sequined costumes -- though she was not topless, presumably a nod to the families in the crowd.

Then, as fireworks boomed overhead -- red, naturally, later mixed with whites and blues -- around 50 long-legged dancers wearing the same colours emerged to perform their famous can-can.

Yiftah Bar-Akiva, an Israeli who has lived in Paris for 11 years, was sipping champagne from a flute glass with friends who came for the party.

"It's as mythical as the Eiffel Tower, it's like a piece of history of the Belle Epoque," he said.

"I don't think it's disrespectful of women, I think it's still art," he added. "It's not like it's a peepshow!"

Joanna Cavarzan travelled from her home near the city of Chartres, not far from Paris, with a friend, Joe McGinty, who was visiting from Toronto.

"I've never been inside, and I was hoping to see a little bit what it was like," Cavarzan said.

But like many in the crowd, she could hardly see the dancers -- no stage had been set up on the boulevard for their show.

Opened in 1889 -- the same year as the Eiffel Tower was completed -- the Moulin Rouge has become a must-see for millions of tourists to the French capital, even if only from the outside.

The two nightly shows, two hours each, are almost always sold out seven nights a week, 365 nights a year, with tourists and locals attending in roughly even numbers.

The cabaret has also become a touchstone in popular culture, not only with Baz Luhrmann's 2001 hit film but before that in 1952 with John Huston's version starring Zsa Zsa Gabor.