Princess Radjah: Belly Dance and the Big Time

Princess Radjah (sometimes spelled Princess Rajah) was one of those rare but irreplaceable links between the sideshow midway and the big time vaudeville stage. Her real name was Rose (or Rosa) Ferran. Little is known about her early life and career except that she started out as a Coney Island belly dancer in the 1890s, during the initial heyday of that craze. In 1904 she performed at the St. Louis World’s Fair; her act was captured by an Edison film crew and is available to watch on youtube.

Words used to describe numbers in her influential repertoire included “Oriental dance”, “snake dance”, “Egyptian dance”, “Cleopatra dance”  and her famous “Arabian chair dance” in which she gripped a chair by the leg in her jaws, an impressive feat for any human, you will admit.

In 1909 she was performing in New York’s top dime museum, Huber’s, when Willie Hammerstein saw her and booked her at Hammerstein’s Victoria, which was then the prime vaudeville showplace in the country. She then went on to be a headliner on the big time Keith and Orpheum circuits, earning as much as $1000 a week, very nearly top dollar. For a time she was married to manager and producer Clifford C. Fischer (1882-1951). The couple was divorced by 1921, on the grounds of his infidelity.

Princess Radjah was still a big time Keith act as late as 1927, when she must have been getting pretty long in the tooth for a hoochy-cooch act. But she was a legend, and there’s many a dame (Sally Rand and Mae West among them) who managed to keep the sexual mystique going across the footlights into advanced age. We don’t know her date of death yet, but will add to this post as more information accrues.

Want to learn more about Princess Radjah and the art of the cooch dance? Come see (and hear) my talk “Coney Island and the Birth of Burlesque” at Coney Island USA this Saturday at 5pm. Dancer Enshara (Aubrey Coletti) will be on hand to illustrate the historic dances that entertained audiences in America’s first Amusement Capital throughout the decades. All the info is here.