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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Protecting Your Personal Safety On Belly Dance Gigs

 

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Table of Contents

 

 

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Introduction

The vast majority of people who call belly dancers to hire us for private parties are legitimate. But we need to remember that there are predators out there who are looking for women to stalk, rape, murder, or harass with crank phone calls. They'll target any women who have jobs involving visiting people's homes: real estate agents, insurance saleswomen, and yes, belly dancers. This article will explore some ways to guard your personal safety.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.

Shira

 

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What to Beware Of

If a prospective male customer asks any of the following questions, keep your guard up until you're absolutely certain the call is legitimate!

  • Will You Do A Very Private Party? If he's hiring you for a party, find out how many guests he expects to be there. How would you feel about dancing for a party of one person, especially if he wants to do it in a hotel room he has reserved for the night?
  • Will You Teach A Private Lesson? Many of us teach private lessons, in our own homes, to women. And before the student arrives, we often arrange for ourselves to be the only ones in the house to avoid distractions. What if the caller is a prospective rapist or home-invasion robber?
  • What Do You Look Like? This can be a legitimate question, since some people have a certain "look" in mind that they want in their performer. But if he asks how big your breasts are, whether your navel is an innie or an outie, whether you'll be wearing panty hose with your costume, or how skimpy your costume is, be careful!
  • Anything Else That Seems "Odd" or "Wrong". If he seems intensely knowledgeable about belly dance (to the point where you suspect he is obsessed), comes across as somewhat strange, refuses to give you a telephone number you can use to call him back to confirm the gig, talks about how erotic he thinks the dance is, etc., be cautious!

When a dancer whom I'll call "S" was approached by a man seeking a private performance for him alone in a hotel room, she asked other local dancers if they had heard of him. She learned that yes, he had told other local dancers that he had an obsession with a novel which centers around a belly dancer who gets raped. He had confessed to one dancer that he found this scene particularly erotic and read it over and over.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Shira

 

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False Sense of Security

Some would-be predators may try to lure you into a false sense of security by saying all the "right" things. The wilier ones might:

  • Mention the names of other dancers in your area, claiming that they know them or have seen them dance.
  • Ask about your dance technique, such as whether you use certain propse.
  • Toss around terminology that typically would be known only to an "insider" such as mentioning tribal fusion or using the term hafla.
  • Claim they see the dance as an art form rather than a dance of seduction.
  • Talk about attending a recent belly dance event (festival, workshop show, competition) in your area.

As "S" said regarding such a caller: "The point about this guy is that he seems normal at first. He is a well dressed, professional looking white male, mid-30's. He is well spoken and seems both knowledgeable and appreciative of the dance." After spending some time talking with him, she quickly saw that he was someone to be wary of.

Remember that it's easy to acquire knowledge about our dance without truly being an insider. A potential predator can pick up a few dancer names and buzzwords from a cursory web search. He might notice newspapers, social media, and ad circulars which advertise workshops, festivals, and other events sponsored by local dancers. Attending such events will quickly teach such a person how to "talk the talk". Various dancer-operated web sites such as mine provide extensive information about belly dancing.

So, don't be lulled into thinking every non-dancer who knows something about our dance has honorable intentions.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Lina Jang, New York City, New York.

Shira

 

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If You Think You're Being Stalked

The Scenario

At first this person seems "nice". He or she shows up at your performances and offers profuse compliments afterward. Maybe this person has taken photos or video and gives it to you. There may be some friendly chitchat about inconsequential things, such as the weather.

And maybe that's all there is to it. Almost always, this person is simply someone who likes the way you teach or perform, and simply wants to express good will. Over time, every dancer who appears in public regularly acquires a base of admiring fans. Some of them may even become friends.

But sometimes there is something more serious lurking beneath the surface. Human society always has a tiny percentage of people who may be potentially violent. As public figures, we dancers should always be aware that we may come to the attention of such a person. We need to learn how to recognize these people, and we need to have a strategy for dealing with it.

These people aren't always men. We dancers tend to think of stalkers as being men who are initially attracted by our feminine wiles, but a female student or fellow dancer could be equally dangerous.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.

Shira

What to Do

If someone suspicious has started calling you frequently, sending you regular e-mail messages, or behaving suspiciously when coming to watch your performances, here are some steps to take:

  • Try Using Reason. Try courteously telling the person that it makes you uncomfortable to have him calling you, e-mailing you, and attending your performances. Ask him nicely to quit. To make it easy for him to save face, suggest that his attention is causing difficulty for you with your jealous (possibly fictitious) husband or boyfriend. This probably won't work, but it provides a starting point.
  • Break Off Contact Immediately. Don't respond to e-mails from him. If he phones you, hang up as soon as you recognize his voice. If necessary, change to a new e-mail address and unlisted phone number without telling him. In your promotional material, publish a separate phone number that rings directly to voice mail instead of ringing at your house.
  • Lie If Necessary. If you can't avoid having a conversation with him, tell him something that will lead him to believe you have a strong, competent man in your life. Even if you don't. If you previously told the stalker you were unattached, tell him you've started seeing someone and you think it's best to cut off your dealings with him. Or talk about your fictitious older brother who was a star football player in college or a Marine Corps drill sergeant and has stayed in shape since.
  • Prepare To Defend Yourself. Buy pepper spray and/or mace, and learn how to use it effectively. Your city might require you to take a class in using it and get a certification. Take a self-defense class or two. Use the treadmill at the gym to build up stamina for running so you can more easily run away from a bad situation.
  • Get Facts. Find out anything you can about this man's identity: name, address, phone number, car license plate number. Give that information to the club owners where you dance and tell them he has been bothering you. Tell them your fears about this man, and ask them to keep it on record in case "something happens" to you. Also give it to several of your friends and close family members, and tell them about your concerns.
  • Document, Document. Begin immediately documenting each and every contact with the stalker. Save copies of every e-mail he sends you, even the innocuous ones. Keep a diary itemizing phone calls you received from him, places he came to watch you dance and what he said if he spoke to you while there, etc. Provide detail on any conversation that may have occurred between you. If you need to pursue legal action in the future, such documentation will strengthen your argument that you are in danger. Investigate what the laws are that apply to taping conversations that occur on your own telephone, and if feasible, do it.
  • Investigate Your Legal Options. Find out whether it would be possible to get a restraining order against this man. Find out whether there are anti-stalking laws where you live that can be applied to your situation.
  • Get Good Advice. If there is a battered women's shelter in your community, ask them to counsel you on your situation. They're used to helping people whose safety may be in jeopardy. They can probably educate you about applicable laws, help you with the paperwork to request a restraining order, etc. Also call your city's local police department to seek advice. In some communities, these agencies have a crime prevention unit that provides education on how to avoid becoming a crime victim. They may have some useful suggestions for you.
  • Escort. Make it impossible for the man to find you alone, especially if he knows where you dance regularly. Persuade someone (preferably male) to accompany you to every performance and stay at your side when you're not actually dancing.
  • Use Telephone Technology. Many phone companies now offer caller ID, auto callback to the person who dialed you last, call blocking, and call tracing. Find out which of these services are available where you live, what they cost, and how to use them. Carry a cellular phone with you at all times, with the power switched on so you can use it immediately if necessary.

Some of the above measures are admittedly inconvenient. You'll need to decide how to balance the risk against the inconvenience.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Shira

 

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Avoiding Risk

Here are some general precautions you can take to avoid becoming a crime victim:

  • Keep Your Home Address Private. Never publish your home address on your web site, on online dancer directories, in belly dancer magazines (even creeps can subscribe to the magazines), in ad circulars, or anywhere else public. If you want to publish a mailing address, use a post office box.
  • Make Sure Someone Knows Where You Are. Before you go to a gig, contact someone who cares about you and tell that person where you're going and what time you expect to be back. Promise to call when you're safely home, and ask that person to call the police if they do NOT hear from you by the expected time. When you get home, call your contact to say you're home safe.
  • Lock Car Doors. When you are actually in your car, lock the doors. This will prevent someone from yanking them open and harassing you in parking lots, at stoplights, etc.
  • Escort. After you dance at a restaurant, ask someone from the staff to escort you safely to your car. Always ask a friend or student to accompany you to performances, especially if you are dancing for private parties in people's homes or hotel rooms. Students often love to accompany their teachers to gigs because it gives them a chance to see what it's really like to do private parties.
  • Do Background Checks On Private Party Gigs. Always get a phone number you can call back "in case you need more information" when you book a gig. Then make an excuse to call it a day or two later with a question to make sure it's legitimate. Ask people who contact you for gigs where they got your name. If they say someone else (whom you know) referred them, call the referrer and ask whether they think it would be safe for you to dance for this gig.
  • Watch Your Back. After a performance, keep an eye behind you to make sure you're not being followed home. If you suspect someone is following you, head straight for a safe place such as a police station. Do not pull into an empty parking lot where you'll be at risk of being assaulted. Instead, stay in your locked car and use your mobile phone to call for help.
  • Web Safety. If you choose to use a web site to promote yourself, read another article I've posted for some tips on Internet safety. It's called Gig Clients, Students or Lonely Men: Who is Your Web Site Designed to Attract?.
  • Question Your Agency. If you work with a singing telegram company or other agency that books shows for you, ask them what steps they take to make sure the gigs they set up for you are legitimate. Ask how they screen prospective clients to avoid sending you into dangerous situations. If their answer is not satisfactory, you may want to take your own initiative to call each client before the gig and do your own "personal safety" screening.

Managing your personal safety is like any other security issue — you'll want to take sensible measures to avoid unnecessary risk, but you may find it impractical to do everything I've suggested. Only you can decide what the balance between safety versus inconvenience should be for you.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Jeff Obermann, Corvallis, Oregon.

Shira

 

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Survey: Your Attitudes & Experiences

Whether you're a student, teacher or professional, whether you're going to classes or performing, personal safety is something to consider. Some dancers are very aware of personal safety issues when going to classes or performances. Others really don't think about it at all. What's your own personal perspective and experience? Only one vote per visitor, please!

Note: you must have cookies enabled on your computer in order to cast a vote in this poll.

 

 

Poll reflects votes since October 14, 2006.

Thanks for submitting your own vote! Please come back and check periodically to see what the consensus is from everyone!

 

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