Being Safe in India (part 2)

Being Safe in India (part 2)

Ever since I arrived to India, people keep asking me about the safety of women/dancers here. A while back I wrote about work-related safety issues. This time I am looking at more general aspects.

Let’s start with the grossest threat – the food! Indian food is notorious for causing troubles, and there is a selection of different forms of food poisoning to choose from 😉 On a more serious note, it can get as bad as needing an IV. The good news is, you will learn which foods to avoid (like salads at the weddings), how to cope with when it happens to you (hint: Immodium, Norflox and peppermint oil), and even how to work throughout the whole thing (not while being hooked to an IV though 😉 ).

It is world wide knowledge that most accidents happen at home, and in India it seems to be true. Especially when it comes to bathrooms. I’ve lived in a flat where switching on the light in the bathroom was always a bit of a roulette – you never knew if you would get an electric shock or not. In another apartment I witnessed how the heater tank exploded – it was extremely lucky that no-one was in the bathroom at the same time.

But the biggest threat lies in the drivers. We spend a lot of time in cars – sometimes the drive to a show can be up to 8 hours. And the drivers are terribly overworked. Once, a driver fell asleep behind the wheel while we were driving through a tunnel. Another time we had to take a roadside break in the middle of the night, so that the driver could have a little nap to recuperate. We’ve also had problems with drunk people sitting behind the wheel. Often I choose not to sleep in the car during our drive back from the show just to keep an eye on the driver… it is better to be dead tired than dead.

I know that when I am asked about the safety here people actually want to know about the everyday life. Judging from what is published in the foreign and also Indian media, India is definitely not a safe place for a woman. However, my experience has not been bad… I live in a decent neighbourhood, travel in the “women only” cart on the metro, and don’t hang out too much after dark. I avoid talking to strangers (or actually, turning any attention to them at all), and when I have to take a taxi, I ask my boss to book it for me, to make sure it is a reliable company, and he has the contact of the driver. So far I can say that India has been treating me properly in that sense!

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.