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Michelle & Sandra
in front of the Humayoun tomb
Gilded Serpent presents...
The Grand International
Bellydance Tour
How We Fled India at Midnight,
Eluding Our Captors and
Evading our Go-Go-Dance
What Would Fifi Do?
by Michelle and Sandra

The debut international tour of the America Bellydance Company would have been perfect.  If not for

  1. Ukrainian Prostitution rings.
  2. Anal Cavity strip-searches performed on Indian Foreign Ministers by the United States customs service.
  3. Hindustan Times paparazzi and the photos that drove us into hiding

August 2004: The American Bellydance Company's tour to China has been cancelled. The Chinese government has informed us that our debut venue, a brand-new, state of the art amphitheater, has no roof.  Michelle has to tell 21 dancers and musicians that all of their rehearsals have been for nothing.  In a last ditch effort, still unaware that the fates are against us, we contact Michelle's agent in India

Us - "We have 21 dancers and musicians ready to go."

Him - "That sounds like quite a show. I can only afford seven."

Us - "How about 21?  It's an extravaganza for the Indian people."

Him - "No.  Make it seven. - tour starts in three weeks."

The American Bellydance Company:

starting at the bottom left and going clockwise...
Sandra, Luna, Holly, Mira, Hannah, Aliza, Michelle

photo by Amy "Luna" Manderino

In the face of great disappointment, a third of the company frantically reconstructs the entire 90-minute show.  All we need now are Indian performance visas..

While we wait, the news breaks in India that the Foreign Minister has been strip-searched by US customs officials.  India is outraged!  All American visa applications are summarily declined.  But wait, our guy knows a guy who knows a guy who can get us in.  But who could have foreseen the Ukrainian prostitution ring that next hit the Indian headlines. 

It may not have been such a problem for us had the prostitutes not been posing as bellydancers!

So, with the American Bellydance Company under suspicion of prostitution, our back-up tour has also fallen through.  However, our agent insists that he can get Michelle and Sandra into the country with last year's paperwork (we trust this booking agent implicitly, despite last year's bellydance tour terrorist attack . see article). 

"What could go wrong?" we ask as boarding our flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles to Osaka to Bangkok to Delhi.  We're obviously in the hands of professionals.

We forgave our agent for being 3 hours late picking us up at the airport (in the middle of the night after a 48 hour journey) because he promised to take us to a glamorous Bollywood fashion show to rub elbows with celebrities the next day.  You see, our agent can be very charming.  He shares with us his dreams of bringing bellydance to the Indian subcontinent.  He reveals that he is currently negotiating with Fifi Abdu for a national tour later that year. Well, if he's good enough for Fifi.

To avoid getting mired in details, let us say that the Bollywood fashion show was not what we expected, but resulted in:

  1. several photos of us being published in national news outlets
  2. Indian officials accusing our agent of having us in the country illegally
  3. the cancellation of all upcoming performances
  4. our removal from the capital
  5. the commencement of what our agent calls "laying low"

Since we were no longer profitable, our agent put us on an 18-hour train ride to Calcutta for the reasonable price of  $7.  The obvious discomfort of the journey was exacerbated by our 250 pounds of luggage containing thousands of dollars of bellydance costumes, which could not leave our sight (and caused us to be mocked by the Indian farmers who shared our very crowded compartment). 

These 18 hours gave us time to reflect and we agreed that Fifi Abdu would never surrender to this treatment quietly.  Which brought us to our motto for the remainder of the trip: What would Fifi do?

When we staggered off the train we were taken not to a hotel, but to the less conspicuous Punjabi State Headquarters, where we were given two servants stationed outside our room to preclude us from ever having to leave. 

Michelle in Pushkar

What passes for attentive hospitality at the Punjabi State Headquarters, quickly became oppressive and intrusive at all hours of the day and night.  Our agent seemed to have abandoned us, and our pleas for a 5-star hotel (or just clean sheets) were routinely ignored.

The question "What would Fifi do?" led us to the inevitable conclusion that the best country club in Calcutta was more appropriate to our needs. . And if our agent wanted us to do any shows he could very well come pay our bill to get us out.  After a blissful day of extremely affordable massages and facials, the cell phone rings. 

He has found us.  He demands to know why we have left the State Headquarters and tells us that he is severing all professional ties with us.  We toast our good fortune and plan beauty treatments for the afternoon. 

Just when we've agreed on our glorious travel plans for the remainder of our time in India, the phone rings again.

"Where are you. I'm in the lobby"

Our blood runs cold!  Will he drag us out by our hair?  Are we going to prison?  Summary executions? He handed us a pile of cash, paid our bill, put us on the next plane to Delhi, put us in a 5-star hotel and told us we have a show the next day.  Fifi would be satisfied. 

Sandra with snakeman Lord Shiva
Let us fast forward to the show.  After asking us why our costumes are so conservative (!!!) our agent tells us that the audience is not interested in our choreography, so we are to be go-go dancers on tiny platforms to Hindi hip-hop.  Fifi would be livid!  We do 3 sets, but the audience barely sees anything because our neck-less body guards are enormous and stand in front of us at all times to shield us from the crowd.

We are told that the hotel management loved the show and that we have another engagement there next weekend.  According to our calculations, Fifi would not have taken this for a second longer.  So, channeling the power of Fifi Abdu as we zoom towards the airport, we successfully change our flights and spend the remainder of our grand international bellydance tour relaxing and "laying low" at a spa in Thailand.

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Ready for more?
3-8-04 Hindu Extremists Riot at Belly Dance Show by Michelle
At the time, I was beginning to understand that this was a potentially dangerous and explosive situation. But I had no way of knowing how much danger I was really in.

3-9-03 The Joy (and Pain) of Collecting Tips by Sandra
I've been collecting tips for almost 10 years now, and it's only in the last 2 or 3 years that I've really felt confident about it.

1-28-03 How I Accidentally Became a Successful Belly Dance Teacher (and you can too!) by Michelle Joyce
Now mine is the most popular class, which led to a snowballing of other gyms adding belly dance aerobics classes.

1-11-05 Romancing the Stonewall Comic by Alexandria
"Hi, dear, can you send me a payment?"

1-7-05 Unchained! by Monique Monet
Who the hell is Miles Copeland? And, what is he doing in our ancient and sacred world of Middle Eastern dance?

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