Congo's Dancers: Women and Work in Kinshasa (Hardcover)

Congo's Dancers: Women and Work in Kinshasa By Lesley Nicole Braun Cover Image

Congo's Dancers: Women and Work in Kinshasa (Hardcover)


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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, 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.
Lesley Nicole Braun is a research associate at the Institute for Social Anthropology at the University of Basel.
Product Details ISBN: 9780299340308
ISBN-10: 0299340309
Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
Publication Date: January 24th, 2023
Pages: 216
Language: English
“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. Through a refreshing lens of dance as reflective of social form, her lively prose offers innovative insights on the importance of female agency in refashioning gendered boundaries within the context of one of Africa’s most iconic urban settings.”—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