Fe’ral Benga , Senegalese Model and Dancer, Dakar and Paris, 1906-1957

Fe’ral Benga , Model and Dancer, Dakar and Paris, 1906-1957

Whew! November really kicked my butt. I had a journal paper due, I presented at a dress history conference, and we ran the first-ever online convention for BurlyCon, the burlesque educational nonprofit of which I’m vice-president. I didn’t get much done with regard to my Sex Worker Style writing. However, I did manage to get a bit of research in, and I want to introduce you to some people and happenings I encountered! I’ll be back on track for SWS later in December.

This magnificent performer is Francois Féral Benga, who made his mark as a model and dancer while working with famous painters, sculptors, choreographers, and other artists. He played drums for Josephine Baker when she performed her banana dance, and starred in Jean Cocteau’s “The Blood of a Poet.” He was a favored model of Richmond Barthe. A star of the Folies Bergere, he was also the inspiration for his partner Geoffrey Gorer’s book “Africa Dances.” He was a force in the Harlem Renaissance during the 1930s and an elevated icon of Manhattan’s gay culture.

Back to Paris after WWII, Benga opened a cabaret in 1947 called La Rose Rouge which featured performers who were African students in Paris. The club was popular with the fashionable and wealthy Parisians and celebrities, and hugely influential on the city’s nightlife until it closed after about eight years.

When he left Senegal for Paris as a young man in 1930, his wealthy family disowned him; after he closed La Rose Rouge and moved back to Dakar, however, they welcomed his return, and he is said to have married and had a child shortly before his death. While he hasn’t reached the universal icon status of Josephine Baker, he established a level of exquisite and celebrated accomplishment in the worlds of dance and nightlife, and is an important presence in the artistic milieu of the Harlem Renaissance. Learning about him is a start toward understanding how Black performers have used and transcended sexuality and exoticism to make their marks on broader culture, and blazed a trail for avant-garde, queer, and erotic performers well into the 21st century.

Further reading:

Geoffrey Gorer: Africa Dances

Margaret Rose Vendrys, Ph.D. : Casting Feral Be´nga: A Biography of Richmond Barthé’s Signature Work

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/161867723/francois-benga

Image: Benga by Walery: Wikimedia Commons

More Images and Bios:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F%C3%A9ral_Benga

http://godsandfoolishgrandeur.blogspot.com/2016/12/lange-noir-aux-folies-bergere-dancer.html (From the spectacular artist Stephen O’Donnell, be sure to check him out! His blog is breathtaking.)

Further reading:

Geoffrey Gorer: Africa Dances

Margaret Rose Vendrys, Ph.D. : Casting Feral Be´nga: A Biography of Richmond Barthé’s Signature Work

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/161867723/francois-benga

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