The Dressing Room Scavenger Hunt

The Dressing Room Scavenger Hunt

India is a very different environment from every other place I have danced in, so little (and sometimes not so little) culture shocks surface frequently. To cope with this, one has to take things with humour, and consider it all like a game… For example, when it comes to the dressing rooms, it is often like a scavenger hunt 🙂 When I dance at clubs or restaurants, having a decent dressing room (or green room, as it is called here) is usually not a problem. However, events are a completely different story…

Step 1: find a green room.

People keep being surprised when I tell them that no, I will not do four costume changes in a public bathroom. Or, in the room in front of the public bathroom.

Step 2: find a green room with walls.

Sometimes the dressing rooms are more conceptual than actual. Flimsy fabric carelessly drawn around a metal scaffolding, flapping around in the wind (with an outdoor event). Once the green room did have walls, but no windows nor doors. However, it did have an opening in the wall facing directly the audience. 🙂

Step 3: find the loopholes.

My first instinct when entering a dressing room is to scan for security cameras. Most of the time the green rooms are open from the top, so there is also the risk of a wandering drone camera peeking in. Second scan is for peepholes. You would not believe how many times there are random men just standing outside the dressing room hoping to catch a “special show”. A colleague of mine even had a case when someone was trying to film her while she was changing

Step 4: secure your territory.

Sometimes the green room assigned is unisex, so you have to clear out the guys before each costume change… this can be quite an undertaking. If I am sharing it only with female dancers, their managers/coordinators/whoever tend to pop in without warning. And, of course, there are the random men running “accidentally” into your green room, even when it is yours alone. You can try to make sure the accompanying manager is keeping watch outside (a successful strategy depending on the attention span of the manager), or just make a big scandal every time it happens (the phrase “I will pack up and stop dancing” usually works wonders), or…

Step 5: … just learn to change your costumes in a way you are never uncovered 🙂

Being safe in India

Being Safe in India

It is well-known that India is a land of great diversity. So, of course, it also applies to the safety of dancers. Sometimes the security at work is organised to the level of being almost funny, but every now and then going out on stage can be downright dangerous.

In the Indian context I am a relatively tall person. However, there are people taller than me, and it seems that most of them are employed as bouncers at clubs and restaurants. 🙂 Usually they are doing a very good job making the dancer feel safe – when I spent two weeks dancing at a restaurant in Punjab, there was always a bouncer (or two on busier nights) following me during my show. It felt a bit like a game, really… I was just dancing away, and the guy was doing his best keeping up with me between the tables.

Sometimes the security is so tight that the dancer literally dances in a circle of bouncers. It feels very exclusive, but remeber, these guys are tall… so I am not sure how much dancing the audience actually sees. Sometimes there is a photographer inside the circle with me, so I guess they can just check the photos on Facebook later 😉

Safran and security team

With my security team in Ludhiana, Punjab

But things are not always so well organised. I’ve danced at shows, some of them even in five-star hotels, where no security whatsoever is present. When one drunk guy climbs on stage, an experienced dancer can handle it (especially it happens during a saidi ;). But sometimes it is a mass of drunken men, and then it gets scary.

Random guys veering into backstage, and popping into changing rooms is unfortunately a common thing here. Sometimes they are just harmless creeps, but sometimes they are drunk and feel they have all the rights in the world. Once, the party organisers had to build a barrier out of crates of stage equipment just to keep the drunk guests out of backstage. And, of course there were guys trying to dismantle it!

Another thing, which I fortunately haven’t experienced so far, is people throwing things at the dancer. And I am not talking about children tossing rose petals (this has happened to me 🙂 ). But my colleagues have been showered with water or alcohol while they are dancing. Sometimes glasses have been broken at their feet, or just hurled at their general direction.

How such incidents are handled, also varies. Sometimes the client or manager offers a half-hearted apology and insists on continuing with performances.  Sometimes security measurers are improvised – like creating a human wall of stage workers. And sometimes we just pack up and leave as quickly as possible.

And this whole thing only concerned the on-site aspect of dancers’s security. I hope to write more about general safety issues soon.

Not a Russian Dance, not a Russian Dancer

Not a Russian Dance, not a Russian Dancer

India is a huge market for bellydance… although sometimes I really wonder why it is such a popular form of entertainment here, as the majority of audiences (and even people in the entertainment industry) are not quite sure of what oriental dance is. Here it is a common misconception that bellydance is essentially a Russian dance. It is probably because a few years back, when the popularity of the dance began, most of the performers were Russian. And even now, the majority of bellydancers here are Russian speakers, either from Russia, Ukraine or Belarus.

To give you an example of what people think, here is a dialogue I witnessed backstage between a Bollywood dancer and Amira, a dancer from Argentina:

Dancing at Zerzura, a restaurant in Delhi where they actually know the origins of oriental dance ;)

Dancing at Zerzura, a restaurant in Delhi where they actually know the origins of oriental dance 😉

-“Where are you from?”
– “Argentina.”
– “I did not ask what your name is, I asked where are you from?”
– “I’m from Argentina.”
– “Oh, so you travelled to Russia to learn bellydance before you came to work here?”
– “No.”
– “Oh, so you came here to learn bellydance?”

As I come from an even more obscure country than Argentina, my struggles with the event anchors who want to announce me as a Russian dancer performing a Russian dance, are greater. I tell stories about Egypt, and draw maps of Northern Europe on napkins. Sometimes however it still remains confusing – by the end of one show the poor anchor was convinced that Estonia is located right in the middle of the Arab world. 🙂

It is not just the bellydancers who go through this. It is also the Egyptian tannouras who sometimes have to explain that they did not learn their art in India, because the sufi traditions also exist elsewhere.

But we don’t give up… we go from show to show, correcting, explaining, discussing… and as my French colleague Leela says – every time we do it, it is like a drop of water… and one day, we will make it into an ocean.