Let me start by stating right off, I am not a bellydance snob. You know the type who only want to do huge events. I do plenty of small gigs and love, or loved, each one. I rarely ever said no to a gig, until one night I worked a private party that changed my mind.
I have danced many private gigs over my 12 years as a bellydancer: weddings,bridal showers, theme dinner parties. Plus performed in several stage shows, festivals, and showcases. I had a regular restaurant gig at a beautiful Moroccan restaurant in the city before it shut down. So, when I got the call to dance at a private birthday party, I assumed it would be like all the other parties fun, great people, and a positive experience. I wasnt exactly on point with that assumption.
It started with the phone call. The woman was in the city and I live in the country, so I offered to refer her to other dancers in her area. She said she had called several other dancers and they wouldnt do the gig for the price she wanted to pay. I told her my price and that I would have to charge mileage since it was a far drive for me. Then the woman on the telephone said she would double my price if I would agree to dance at this party. Why did I not see the red flag?
The party was for her husbands 25th birthday and I was to be a surprise. Again, I ignored the red flag here. It seemed innocent enough. The party was in just a few days, so I didnt have time to get out my usual professional contract and just decided to wing it. After all, I had never had a bad experience as a professional dancer. I asked the usual questions regarding the number of guests, was it a mixed-gender crowd, whether there would be children, what the dance surface was, etc. I felt I covered all bases and decided to go forward without the contract. After all, I had always been treated as a respectable dance artist at every other private gig I had done.
The day before the birthday party came and it was shadowed by the craigslist.com murders in the news. I decided that my husband should go to the gig with me. This is something I generally would never do. My husband is not a huge supporter of my dancing and he gets really bored with the whole thing. Plus, as much as I love him, he can be a real grump sometimes.
But something told me I needed a body guard and that was unusual for this independent bellydance princess. Again, why did I not see the red flag?
The day of the gig, I received numerous calls from the wife needing my assurance I was going to show at her event. She even texted me about 5 times. This was pretty unusual for any gig I had previously performed at.
Again, why did I not see the red flag?
We drove to the location and noticed right off it was not the best area of town. Oh, well, I thought, it is just city and I am used to the country. When we arrived at the party I was lead through a back door into a dark and hot little room. There seemed to be lots of women and men there, so I thought to myself, this looks like it will be fine. Luckily, my husband stood vigil at the door. My music started and I entered the room with veil flowing to see a man seated blindfolded on a chair in the middle.
Immediately, all the women quickly left the room. Huh? I started dancing and the guest of honors blindfold was removed to reveal . . . me. I guess I was his present? Okay, now my heart was racing and not in a good way.
It was a weird feeling. The group of male guests clearly wanted me to only dance for this one man, and he was quick to start stuffing bills in my beaded belt. My contract, had I taken the time to fax it to the client, clearly states I will not take tips on my body and prefer a tip pot. Then, before I knew it, I was surrounded by drunk young men who wanted to make physical contact with me and stuff bills in places that was totally inappropriate. I redirected them to my belt and wrist band, but as I was dancing, I realized that those men had no intention of respecting my request.
This was nothing like any past event I had worked. As I danced I noticed that I really didnt need to do anything special. In fact, I didnt even need any great dance skills at all. I was just there to wiggle, and most of what I did was defensive moves. As the DJ continued to mix up my music thinking it was funny, I continued to ward off drunk men. My poor husband stood at the door not sure if he should run to my rescue swinging since he didnt want to interfere, hadnt been to a private gig with me before, and didnt want to intrude on my independence.
Bless his heart. I cut the set short and dashed out. A few tips fell to the floor and I just ignored it and kept on out the door.
This is not a tragic story, thankfully, since I escaped unharmed. But I wondered if it would have been different without my body guard. I felt crestfallen and insulted by the whole event. My dear husband, after hearing my interpretation of the event, took me out for ice cream.
Fast forward two weeks to my next gig. It is local here at a home in the country and I have a signed contract. My husband gets called to an emergency and I am left on my own to enter a private home for a Morrocan party. I arrived really early and sit in the car with my heart beating. Am I in danger? I dont know these people and I am entering a private home on 20 acres where no one could hear my screams.
I sit in the car for what seems like forever. As I finally get out, grab my bag, and approach the door, I hear Morrocan music playing inside the house. A nice woman dressed in a hipscarf answers the door and she and her lovely friends rush to greet me. I am shown to a private place to prepare to perform and the entire event is marvelous. I know there are no red flags here.
The Moral of the Belly Dance Body Guard Story
The moral? If I need a body guard for an event, I probably shouldnt be doing that event anyway. I will pick and choose what gigs I accept and they will not include any event with red flags ushering the way. But if I pick and choose specific types of events now, does that make me a bellydance snob? I think it makes me smarter than I was before I took on that birthday party, and that is worth more than the money I made at that gig.
Vahana is a horse trainer by day and bellydance princess by night. She lives in the Placerville area on White Horse Ranch, with her husband, young son, her mother, 3 Arabian mares, an Icelandic gelding, 3 Nubian goats, 5 cats, and Tropper, the dog. Vahana teaches classes in Placerville and is the troupe directer and founder of Jewels of the North belly dance and the little sister troupe, the Jewelettes. www.vahanabellydance.com.
Vahana has been belly dancing for over a decade and has been teaching belly dance and Zumba in Placerville, CA, for over 6 years. She is the founder of troupe Jewels of the North and for the past five years has been producing the Casbah Lounge, Evening of Middle Eastern Dance four times a year to benefit local families in need.