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

A Belly Dance View



Table of Contents




This article originally appeared in Zaghareet Magazine in the November/December 2014 issue.

On May 23, 2014, a man in California killed 6 people, wounded 13 others, then committed suicide. He left behind a video in which he said, “I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It's an injustice, a crime, because... I don't know what you don't see in me. I'm the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman.”

This statement by the killer provoked a chill in women. It expressed a point of view that women have seen all too often, across many centuries and many cultures: the idea that a man is entitled to take what he wants from women, whenever he pleases.  And if women don’t give it to him, he feels he has the right to employ violence to either take it from them forcibly or to punish them for refusing to comply.

We realize, of course, that not all men agree with this notion of male entitlement. We also realize that not everybody who feels this sense of entitlement expresses it by going out and murdering innocent people. The killer in California was an extreme case.  However, though not all men believe women “owe” it to them to be “nice,” the numbers of men who do believe it are large enough that all women have far too much experience with groping hands, aggressive comments, sexual harassment on the Internet, and fears of violence. Thus the #YesAllWomen hashtag was born on Twitter, signifying that although #NotAllMen harass and assault women, yes, all women have experienced harassment and fear. The numbers of women who have been subjected to sexualized violence are much higher than we may realize, as many times victims don’t confide their experiences, even to friends.

From a belly dance perspective, we experience the male entitlement mentality so often that we often don’t even realize we’re reacting to it until a discussion of sexual harassment and personal safety comes up.  As the #YesAllWomen conversation took wings on Twitter, I began to post some examples specific to belly dance, and I myself was surprised to see just how many examples I could name once I got started.

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




What Dancers Have Experienced

Since 2006, there has been a poll on inviting respondents to share their attitudes and experiences on personal safety from a belly dance perspective.  As of September 2015, the results revealed:

  • 32% said they think about personal safety frequently when going to belly dance classes or gigs.
  • 45% take active precautions to avoid being incapacitated by a date rape drug on gigs.
  • 1.3% of respondents report they actually were drugged while on a gig
  • 1.9% reported they suspected their drink had been spiked with a date rape drug and therefore didn't drink it.
  • 10% report harassment by someone obsessive or by a stalker.
  • 2.9% report experience of attempted violence at a dance gig/class or just outside.

When I created the above poll in 2006, it didn't occur to me to include a question about experiences with Internet-based sexual aggression, trolls, and bullying. Today, however, that too is a very real concern for many dancers.

I have spoken to multiple dancers who were the victims of attempted rape by club owners or employees. Later, as they talked to other dancers in their communities, they learned that others had also been assaulted.  Why weren’t communities talking about this?  Why weren’t dancers warning each other?

In December 2013, a high-profile male dancer in the U.K. was convicted in court of multiple counts of sexual assault committed against 3 different women who had come to him for belly dance private lessons. Again, why wasn’t the community talking about this? Why weren’t dancers warning each other? After his conviction, additional women admitted that they too had been assaulted by him, but had feared the experience of testifying in court, and therefore kept silent.

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




Men in the Audience

Enduring harassment is part of the job description for dancers performing at restaurants, private parties, or other environments that have a large number of men in the audience, particularly when alcohol is readily available. These are some examples of what belly dancers  routinely must deal with:

  • Male audience members who try to get upskirt photos/videos when we perform on a raised stage.
  • Male restaurant customers or party-goers who think it's ok to grope us as we dance near their table.
  • Male audience members who get angry if we don't allow on-body tipping in our performances.
  • Men who try to grope the dancer when tipping her.
  • Men who assume you'll be easy with sexual favors just because you are a pro belly dancer . (After I posted this one on Twitter with the #YesAllWomen hashtag, a man I'd never previously interacted with replied with, "maybe you should stop being blonde stuck up whore".)

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




Taking Precautions

It struck me as I participated in the Twitter #YesAllWomen dialogue in 2014 that it has become so automatic for me to take precautions for personal safety that I no longer consciously think about them.  I just do them. These include:

  • Taking a friend along on a gig for personal safety in case some guy gets wrong ideas.
  • Refusing a cool, refreshing drink after the performance is over as a precaution to avoid a possible date rape drug.
  • Inspecting the dressing room where I’ll be putting on my costume for possible webcam or peephole.
  • Giving a friend the street address of the gig, along with contact name and phone number of the contact person I worked with to book it.  Telling the friend what time I expect the gig to finish, and contacting her to say I’m home safely afterward.
  • Taking a sword to every gig just so that any predators watching me walking from my car to the door will see that I’m armed.  I’ve also found the sword helped tame some types of heckling.

Back when I used to perform regularly at private parties, my husband was always extremely uncomfortable with it for reasons of personal safety.  His concern was that I might be assaulted coming and going from strangers’ houses at night by myself.  His schedule was such that escorting me was not really an option.  I never personally faced a bad situation, but it was a risk that I very much considered.

Belly dancers aren't the only women who need to consider this issue. Before I started gigging as a dancer, I saw an article in a newsletter for real estate agents warning female realtors to beware of "buyers" who might be predators trying to lure them to an empty house, with plans to attack them once they were inside. The article offered advice on how to mitigate this risk, and much of it was similar to what I have done as a gigging dancer.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by William M. Smith, Iowa City, Iowa.




Bizarre Callers

Not everybody who calls a belly dancer actually intends to hire one for a gig or sign up for a class.  Some just want to talk dirty to us. Every dancer who has dealt with the public has encountered calls from such people masquerading as gig or student inquiries. For example:

  • Men claiming they want to hire you for a "private" belly dance show for an audience of ONE.
  • Men with navel fetishes asking for a detailed description of yours: whether it’s an innie or an outie, whether it’s pierced, etc.
  • Men who link belly dancing to "seducing the Sultan" harem fantasies and WANT IT TO BE TRUE to validate their own fantasies.
  • Men claiming they’re looking for a dancer to hire for a show, but you KNOW they're “playing the skin mizmar” (pleasuring themselves) as they talk to you because their questions don’t match what a real gig client would ask.
  • Men who ask a large number of strange questions about what costume you’ll wear for the performance if they hire you, what kind of hosiery you’ll wear, what your underwear will be like, whether you’ll put a jewel in your navel, etc.
  • Men pretending to be interested in signing up as a student and asking odd questions about what sort of attire to wear to class, what attire the women will be wearing, etc. Of course, it's natural for a beginning student to look for recommendations on what to wear to class, but some questions are more appropriate than others....

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Kaylyn Hoskins, Solon, Iowa.




The Wolves Among Us

Sometimes the predators manage to hide in plain sight, deeply involved as members of our dance community. Some may be partners of our dance friends, while others may masquerade as musicians, workshop instructors, photographers, videographers, vendors, DJ's, event sponsors, or other insiders. Dancers often let down our guard around these people, especially if we encounter them repeatedly in our communities over time. We start to trust them, and they can become true friends. However, it's important to remember that belly dance communities are no different from the general public — most people are honorable, but predators exist in every sector of the population, including within our dance environment. We need to exercise the same precautions within our dance communities as we do in our non-dance lives.

A belly dance friend told me a prominent musician in her community invited her to have a drink with the band after the show that evening. He spiked her drink with a date rape drug, and not only did he personally rape her, but he invited other men in the band to do the same.

As mentioned earlier in this article, the U.K. belly dance scene was thrown into turmoil when a high-profile male dancer attacked several women who came to him for private dance lessons and auditions in his home. He was convicted on two counts of rape, one count of causing a woman to engage in sexual activity and one count of sexual assault. This man's wife, also a dancer, had no idea what her husband was doing until three of his victims came to her with their stories. After the verdict was announced, additional women contacted the wife to say that they too had experienced attacks from her husband.

There's always the risk of violent ex-partners showing up at our classes or belly dance events, looking for the target of their obsession. In these situations, there is the risk innocent by-standers could be harmed.

Fortunately, the incidents are not always violent, but dancers can still feel very violated when our dance communities are infiltrated by men with dishonorable motives.

I have personally encountered men mingling among the shoppers at belly dance events who used their proximity to dancers to grope women as they brushed past.

I have seen a prominent male musician lurking outside the dressing room door at a big belly dance event, trying to look inside as dancers were coming and going.

The husbands of two belly dancers were discovered posting sexually aggressive comments about their wives' dance colleagues on a private social media group. One post presented a photo of dancers on stage performing, and said, "This is right before I ___ed them all under the stage." Another photo of performers was captioned, "They are all in line to suck my ___." There were many additional similar posts made by these men before their behavior was exposed to the dance community.

So, how do we protect ourselves against these wolves among us? A good place to start is to spend some time reading about how to recognize predatory behavior so we can recognize it. I found the book The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker useful. Additional topics that I recommend reading about are gaslighting, sociopaths, narcissists, and rape culture.

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




The Truly Scary Ones

Some men link violence and obsession with belly dancers in a way that can pose a very real threat to all of us. Fortunately, these situations are rare, but it's important for us to be aware so we can take appropriate precautions.

  • A man approached a belly dancer regarding a gig for a private performance for him alone in a hotel room. When she asked other local dancers in her community whether they had heard of him, they reported that yes, he’d talked about an obsession he had with a novel whose story line centers around a belly dancer who gets raped. He had confessed that he found this scene particularly erotic and read it over and over.
  • A dancer received email from a man describing an erotic fantasy that involved abducting a belly dancer, chaining her in his basement, and torturing her by repeatedly stabbing her in the navel with a knife. In his email, he told the dancer that he had found her photo on the Internet, and she ideally fit his vision of the dancer in his fantasy.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah Neighbors, Hershey, Pennsylvania.




Yes, All Women!

As dancers, we come into contact with the public every day. In addition, some of our dance sisters bring these men into our community events as husbands, photographers, DJ's etc. The more people we encounter, the more likely some of them will be men who expect us to be “nice” and accuse us of being “stuck up” if we refuse to play into their fantasies or let them objectify us.

No, #NotAllMen treat women this way, and in fact most of us are surrounded by wonderful fathers, husbands, boyfriends, brothers, and sons who treat women right. I have been fortunate to work with many musicians, photographers, and other professionals who treat women with the respect we deserve. However, #YesAllWomen including belly dancers must deal with harassment, both inside our dance community and with the public.

I am not suggesting that we live in fear of what could happen. I don't live in fear that a car accident could occur when I drive my car to work, though I do practice defensive driving such as slowing down when the roads are slippery. I don't live in fear of somebody robbing my house, but I lock the doors and set the alarm system. I bring the same thought process to dance — being aware of possible risks and taking practical precautions to avoid making myself unnecessarily vulnerable. Such precautions don't guarantee safety, but they reduce the avoidable risk in the situation, and I can live with that.

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




What Has Your Experience Been?

Above, under the "What Have Dancers Experienced?" section of this article, I cited results from a poll that has been on my web site since 2006. Would you like to share your own experience with personal safety in the belly dance world? 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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