The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)
René and Frances Besné
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Information: René and Frances Besné, teachers of Bulgarian, Balkan, and international dance.
Born in Hollywood, California, René Besné played in and around the Hollywood Bowl as a child. He became involved in folk dance when he moved with his mom to Exeter, California at about sixteen years of age. He tagged along when she began folk dancing at a city recreation club that met on basketball courts and found he liked it, especially Russian dances. René even learned how to call square dances and called for a Federation festival in Fresno. He specialized in complex figures, then getting dancers ingeniously back home!
Then the draft called. After military service, René returned to Hollywood and began doing international folkdance. He fell in with Jim Schlesinger and became entranced with “dotted beats” and “compound rhythms,” thus a committed Balkan dancer.
While living in Hollywood he met his future wife, Frances, and was part of the folk café scene, dancing and teaching. Both he and Frances danced with Kitka. Next Rene co-directed the performing ensemble Sredic with Stopan and Majka Cemja. Their most noteworthy gig was during intermission for a performance of the Russian Balalaika Orchestra at the Wilshire Ebell Theater. Tony Shay wrote admiringly, "I remember, like a tape playing in my brain, your performance at the Intersection with seven dancers wearing blue and white Šop costumes." He praises Frances and René for their fine dancing and expresses his wish that they had joined AMAN.
René recounts the origin of Floating Kolo: "Floating Kolo was local Balkan dancers who wanted to enable a monthly Kolo party without teaching. One of the members had an 'in' with Los Angeles County which greatly assisted the use of County facilities at the time. I was the one who assembled three hours of dances from a library of discs and tapes, and which often employed variants from the 'usual' recording for a dance. Each month the party was held at a different venue hence the 'Floating’' part of the name." René states that the cost of insurance ended the monthly Floating Kolo parties.
In 1964, the Federation Festival committee invited the Floating Kolo gang to host kolo hour at the Ojai festival. Rene prepared a two-hour tape (reel to reel) composed of tunes from Michael Herman records and 78's rustled out of Bulgaria. Billy Burke claims to have been a kid at that festival with his parents but does not recall the music.
Professionally Rene worked as a graphic designer in Hollywood before being employed by Electrostatic Sound System. Later he co-founded Threshold Electronics to design and market ultra-high-end amplifiers. His musical talent was inherited from his grandfather who played the flute and conducted the San Bernardino Symphony.
René and Frances made a business move to Sacramento in 1971. There he taught a recreational folk dance class and directed the ensemble Majka Zemja. While René was out of town to attend an electronics showcase, a torrential rain caused a five-foot-flood within thirty minutes. Frances and the children got out safely, as did their pets thanks to neighbors in a canoe who snatched the cat floating on a couch. Their home was lost, as well as most Bulgarian costumes, documents, and memorabilia.
In retirement the couple moved to So Cal to be closer to their son and family. Now René is restoring memorable musical experiences from his files of reel to reel tapes.
From Folk Dance Scene, December 2020
Born and raised in Long Beach, California, Frances Besné studied classical ballet with David Lichine and Tatiana Riabouchinska, renowned teachers in Hollywood who had danced with the Ballet Russe. She was in the corps de ballet of his troupe.
As a teen she began folkdancing, because she liked any and all kinds of dance. She remembers doing kolos and Israeli dances at Café Danssa. She attended a Balkan class in the valley with Jim Slesinger, who she defines as a “demanding teacher.” René and Frances met dancing.
Frances worked for MGM studios and took a leave of absence to vacation in Spain. Visiting a "Gypsy" cave in Grenada where Maria La Canestera performed Flamenco, Frances was invited to take part in the "audience participation" segment of the show. Her dancing impressed the cave residents so highly that she was invited to join their community for six months. She has vivid memories of life in the cave rain threatening landslides within the cave; tourists who were required to buy wine for the "Gypsies" to drink from a large bowl to create a more impassioned performance; Anthony Quinn attending a performance. She was so accepted by the group that she was invited to attend a family wedding. One of René’s current projects is to restore the tapes she made during her sojourn.
Upon her return from Grenada Frances began to perform with Kitka, and a Greek ensemble. She briefly danced with AMAN and later was a featured dancer and women’s leader in Sredic, directed by René. She recalls a Federation festival in San Diego where Sredic performed. Women attending the festival were required to wear skirts. She and her friends wore pants under their skirts to signal their displeasure with the rule. Frances and René recall an occasion when Sredic performed on Catalina Island. That being the era of loyalty oaths and the "red scare" the dancers were boo’ed when they paraded in Bulgarian costumes through town.
In Sacramento Frances began sculpting, as well as dancing in Majka Zemja. She was thrilled to have had a piece accepted into a traveling exhibition at the Crocker Museum. Alas her kiln was lost in the flood. Frances injured her back while driving a client at the assisted living facility where she was the activity director. That injury ended her dance career.
She continues to create art, currently doing water colors and recycling aluminum into art craft sculptures. Frances and René have a son and daughter. One of their granddaughters is a talented dancer in high school.
From Folk Dance Scene, December 2020
Dances René and Frances taught include Dajčovo horo, Dranavoto rŭčenica, Elenino horo, Novozagorsko horo, Pasarelska, Plevensko Pajduško horo, Rŭčenica na levo, Šopsko horo, and U Kruševo Ogin Gori.
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