Olga (Ollie) Burgoyne (1879-1974)

Olga Burgoyne
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Olga “Ollie” Burgoyne, also known as Ollie Burgoyne-Calloway, was a singer and dancer specializing in Russian and other ethnic dances. She was also an actress and businesswoman who gained popularity during the Harlem Renaissance and left her mark as one of the most influential African American dancers and choreographers of that time.

Ollie Burgoyne was born in Chicago, Illinois, on June 13, 1879. She was part Russian and part Creole. Ollie’s cousin, Ida Forsain, toured Russia and specialized in Cossack dancing. Influenced by Forsain, Burgoyne debuted at age 17 in John Isham’s Oriental America nightclub in Chicago in 1896. In 1901, at age 22, she embarked on an eight-year tour of Europe (Germany, France, Denmark, Switzerland, Hungary, and Russia) with seven singing and dancing girls known as the Louisiana Amazon Guards.

In 1903, Burgoyne briefly returned to the United States and joined the cast of the operetta In Dahomey, which was the first African American musical to be performed on Broadway. After her performance, Burgoyne formed Duo Eclatant with partner Asher Watts. She also founded the Burgoyne Musical Company.

During her years in Russia (1904-1914), Burgoyne performed in many prestigious venues, including the Krestovskiy Garden Amusement Park (St. Petersburg) and the Aumont Theater (Moscow). She also made side trips to Odessa in what is now Ukraine, Athens, Greece, Istanbul, Turkey, and Cairo, Egypt. She opened the Maison Creole lingerie store in downtown St. Petersburg (Russia), where she employed a staff of 27. In August 1914, while Burgoyne was vacationing in Marienbad, Austria, World War I broke out, and she was unable to return to Russia and thus lost her businesses and properties there.

Between 1914 and 1929, Burgoyne continued to tour mainly in western Europe. Her specialties were Brazilian, Spanish, and Russian dances, which she mastered while traveling. She briefly returned to the United States during this period, where she performed in New York City, Chicago nightclubs, and Harlem’s Lafayette Theater. In 1925, Burgoyne produced two dance revues, Darktown Strutters, and Harlem Strutters, in New York. She also appeared in ten Broadway productions between 1926 and 1937.

In 1931, Ollie Burgoyne was named one of the eight major dancers and choreographers of the Harlem Renaissance, part of an elite group that also included Hemsley Winfield, Edna Guy, Randolph Sawyer, Asadata Dafora, Katherine Dunham, Charles Williams, and Pearl Primus. In April 1936, when Burgoyne was 57 years old, she appeared in the play Mississippi Rainbow, performed at the Lafayette Theater. In the later years of her life, Burgoyne taught dance and worked periodically in the film industry, starring in movies such as Laughing (1930) and The Timid Ghost (1937). With a career spanning nearly 50 years, Ollie Burgoyne died on April 2, 1974, in Oxnard, California, at the age of 95.

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