Lesley Nicole Braun

Oct 29, 2023

Congo's Dancers

Women and Work in Kinshasa

University of Wisconsin Press 2023

Today I spoke with Lesley Nicole Braun to talk about her new book on Congo's dancers. Dance music plays a central role in the cultural, social, religious, and family lives of the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Among the various genres popular in the capital city of Kinshasa, Congolese rumba occupies a special place and can be counted as one of the DRC’s most well-known cultural exports. The public image of rumba was historically dominated by male bandleaders, singers, and musicians. However, with the introduction of the danseuse (professional concert dancer) in the late 1970s, the role of women as cultural, moral, and economic actors came into public prominence and helped further raise Congolese rumba’s international profile.

In Congo's Dancers: Women and Work in Kinshasa (U Wisconsin Press, 2023), Lesley Nicole Braun uses the prism of the Congolese danseuse to examine the politics of control and the ways in which notions of visibility, virtue, and socio-economic opportunity are interlinked in this urban African context. The work of the danseuse highlights the fact that public visibility is necessary to build the social networks required for economic independence, even as this visibility invites social opprobrium for women. The concert dancer therefore exemplifies many of the challenges that women face in Kinshasa as they navigate the public sphere, and she illustrates the gendered differences of local patronage politics that shape public morality. As an ethnographer, Braun had unusual access to the world she documents, having been invited to participate as a concert dancer herself.

Dr. Suvi Rautio is an anthropologist of China.

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