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Catalog Archive / Fall 2022

Congo's Dancers
Women and Work in Kinshasa

“An excellent contribution. . . . It offers new insights into women’s creativity, embodiment, pleasure, and agency within inequitable gender and class systems.”
International Journal of African Historical Studies

Danseuse and the politics of visibility and economic control

Dance music plays a central role in the cultural, social, religious, and family lives of the people of the Democratic Republic of 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.

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 socioeconomic 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.


Lesley Nicole Braun is a research associate at the Institute for Social Anthropology at the University of Basel.




“Like its topic, Braun’s writing is highly entertaining thanks to her thoroughly selected ethnographic vignettes and embodied exposure to the realities of the danseuse. It is a must read.”
Journal of Modern African Studies

“A highly original and compelling work of ethnography. The role of urban women in the production of popular culture often tends to be overlooked and undervalued, and Braun’s study of female concert dancers in Kinshasa, the beating heart of much of the musical world in Congo, the African continent, and beyond, makes a substantial contribution to fill in this lacuna.”
—Filip De Boeck, coauthor of Suturing the City: Living Together in Congo’s Urban Worlds

“Braun’s study comes as a unique and innovative contribution to our understanding of Kinshasa as a kinetic cityscape that dizzies itself in its perpetual gyrations and metamorphoses. By locating women dancers at the center of Kinshasa’s vortex-like ambiance, Braun’s fine-grained narrative does more than just render these performers visible and agentive; it disrupts and shakes up staid notions of gender configurations, femininity, and the economy of the affect.”
—Ch. Didier Gondola, author of Tropical Cowboys: Westerns, Violence, and Masculinity in Kinshasa

“A brilliant study of the dynamics of gender, labor, and respectability. Drawing on deep fieldwork, Lesley Braun poignantly shows how the dilemmas that professional female dancers face—of being highly visible and yet respectable—offer a lens through which to analyze the double binds that characterize women’s lives more broadly. . . . Essential reading for anyone interested in gender, performance, and contemporary social change.”
—Jennifer Cole, University of Chicago



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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

1 Women and Dance in Congo’s Modern History
Chapter 2
Overlapping Tempos
Chapter 3
Dance Formations

Chapter 4
From Containment to Entrapment
Chapter 5
Working through Encadrement



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New in Paperback!
December 2024
LC: 2022022452 GV
216 pp. 6 x 9
12 b/w illus.

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ISBN 9780299340346
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