As a belly dance teacher your role may soon evolve into that of an agent, booking dancers for restaurants, parties or shows. In my book “Teaching Belly Dance” I run through some tips for how to do this and still stay friends (Super Tip : use contracts !), but I have also added a chapter on how to keep dancers safe.
This is controversial for me. I am the mother of two grown sons and a daughter. I believe that one of my most important jobs is to teach my boys not to rape, to respect women, to be the sober one at the party, to call the police, to take a drunk girl home or to call her parents, to protect her, defend her, to speak up. And yet I spend more time teaching my daughter how to stay safe. Why?
I want her to be able to walk the streets after dark, just as her brothers do. She should be able to call on a neighbor to borrow sugar, stand by her broken down car and wait for the repair man, to stay in a hotel on her own….
Statistically all these things are safer than the first few weeks of dating a new man, meeting his friends, visiting his home for the first time. The Hollywood monster maybe the stranger lurking down a dark alleyway, but the real monster is the boy next door, the new boyfriend, the man who wants to ask you for a date. Yet I fear the stranger too.
As your belly dance teacher I also become your mum, like it or lump it. I’m going to tell you not to take the booking, cos it sounds a bit dodgy, not cos I want the gig myself. I’m going to come with you, guard the door while you change, stand between you and the drunks while you dance (and pretend to take photos), and drive you home. I know you fancy the man a the bar, but you are not staying to chat tonight. Call him tomorrow when he is sober and you are not the “belly dancer”. Sadly he probably wont be so interested. I am old and grumpy and bossy and a spoil sport.
Years ago, I would call on a neighbor each afternoon and take her for a walk. She was about ten years older than me, amazingly bright and fascinating. She had traveled the world and was a wealth of information about the Middle East. She needed someone to walk with her as she was in the last few weeks of carrying her twins. It was a joyful shuffle and sway around the block. I was first choice babysitter to her babies, walked them home from school when she went back to work, spent Christmas afternoons admiring their presents. Today one of those twins posted a very interesting blog about “rape culture”, she quoted feminists, anti-feminists, sociologists and scientists. I’m kind of proud to see that this teenager is obviously studying this subject in depth and feels strongly enough about her views to share them with others. But I am also sad. She is 15. My generation should have sorted this for her. People like me and her mother – strong, intelligent women – we have been teaching our boys not to rape, but its not enough. She sees more work to be done, and she is right.
In the chapter “Keeping dancers safe” I list the things we need to do as dancers, and teach to other dancers, to be “street wise”. I wish it wasn’t necessary. I wish I could cut that chapter. I wish that every dancer could feel safe from attack. But in the mean time I’m going to spell out in my book the “rules”. I am happy to be mum to any performer, and if I cant be there then let me give you my voice in your head telling you to be alert – like it or lump it !
Teaching Belly Dance is available on Amazon -
Sara Shrapnell's new book "Becoming a Belly Dancer: From Student to Stage", with Dawn Devine, Alisha Westerfeld and Poppy Maya is available in summer 2016