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Since the camera was stolen,
these photos had to be lifted from the video!
Gilded Serpent presents...
Return to India –
This Time it’s Personal!

by Michelle and Sandra

We thought that the misfortunes associated with our previous performance tours of India were simply anomalies in the blissful and glamorous world of dancing overseas. Sure, Michelle was the target of a terrorist attack during her show in 2003 , but she lived to tell the tale.  And just because we had to flee the country in the dead of the night to escape from our crazed agent in 2004 , that is no reason to hold a grudge against all Indian event organizers. 

They say the third time is a charm, so we threw our expensive Bella costumes into our suitcases and were on our way…. if only the suitcases containing said costumes had not been lost by Air India!

But before discussing lost luggage, bomb threats, contract breaches, and being robbed blind, we will start at the beginning.  We had learned from our previous experiences, so this time we negotiated a no-nonsense contract with one of India’s most reputable entertainment agencies. We were no longer going to mess around with small-time, industry nobodies. This was the agent that Joe Satriani used when he toured India just 6 months ago.  And Joe is no schmuck.

Bangalore has been called the Silicon Valley of India, and, because we are from Silicon Valley, we thought it sounded quite appealing.  When we arrived, we were thrilled to see that 30 billboards featuring our enormous photos (compliments of Michael Baxter) were towering over busy streets throughout the city.  Our agent had launched a full-scale advertising campaign for our New Year’s Eve performance.  Gas stations were giving away lottery-style scratch cards that held the promise of winning a free ticket to the show. Music stores even had life-size cardboard cut-outs of us on display next to the Bollywood CD’s.  Our agent had effectively created quite a buzz around town and told us that we should expect a crowd of several thousand for our show. So far, so good!

Then came Bangalore’s first terrorist attack… ever.   The entire city was shut down and permits for all New Year’s Eve performances were revoked. 

With the next few days came a series of bomb threats and the mood went from cautious to chaotic.  Our agents were so busy trying to secure a new venue and performance permits that they had totally forgotten about us.  We needed them to help us track down our lost luggage, for one thing.   We also needed them to help us find a laptop so that we could burn our performance CD’s.  And was it too much to ask to simply listen to the Hindi song that they had asked us to incorporate into the show?

With our hosts missing in action, we were left in the care of a 21-year-old DJ, who told us that the music we had planned to use was too boring and that he would be sure to mix it with techno and pop music as we were performing.  Great. 

After no word for several days, we heard from our agent three hours before the show. 

He was calling to say that we were late for the sound check. 

At this point we still had not located our lost luggage, had not burned CDs, had not heard the Hindi song, had not seen the venue, and had not been told what the structure of the show would be.  We had moved way beyond being stressed and angry to just shrugging our shoulders - whatever!      

According to our Indian friends, Westerners worry too much.  They truly had no idea why we would bother with such details.  They had looked at us as if we were crazy when we wanted to discuss specifics of the show a full four days in advance.  To our amazement, in those crazy three hours before the show all of our issues were resolved. Our agent finally secured a performance permit and even managed to persuade the Air India officials to locate our lost bags! 

When we arrived at the venue, we were very pleased.  The stage had been custom built (possibly just one hour earlier) for our performance.  There was professional stage lighting, a top-notch sound system, several video screens, and there were even giant photos of us as the backdrop. 

Cameras from various Indian TV stations were set up in front of the stage and our agent said that they had sold 5,000 tickets. 

While standing on the stage, it was impossible to see the audience through the bright lights.  For a few brief moments, when we were quickly spinning around and when the smoke machine and strobe light were going, we became so dizzy and disoriented that we worried that we might dance right off the edge of the stage! But we were too exhausted from the day’s events to be nervous about the performance.  

However, we did still have the presence of mind to be worried about the bomb threats. 

Our show had not been specifically threatened, but people all over the city were worried about participating in crowded events. Everyone was being advised against convening in large numbers.

While we were doing our first set, someone had broken into our dressing room by cutting a hole through the wall. Our dressing room, which we lovingly called “our shanty”, was made of tin roofing material and lined with colorful tapestries.  Anyone could now reach through the torn wall. We made a few passing comments about hoping that no one would throw a grenade inside, then got dressed for the next set.  It wasn’t until later that we discovered Sandra’s expensive camera, among other things, had been stolen. 

To make matters worse, at that exact moment, across town, someone was also robbing our hotel room.

All problems aside, the show itself went very well.  The DJ didn’t mutilate our music, not a single grenade was thrown into our dressing room, we didn’t fall off the stage, and the audience cheered wildly the whole time.  We got a good laugh when our agent whisked us away from the over-excited group of well-wishers that surrounded us backstage.

Then it dawned on us: we had not gotten paid before the show. 

We talked about getting paid, we meant to get paid, but with all of the excitement we just forgot! We don’t usually require payment up-front, but our new, no-nonsense contract specifically requires it. 

Michelle had to go to the airport that night, but Sandra was planning to stick around for a few more days.  Surely she would get the money the next day.  After all, if Joe Satriani trusted this guy, why shouldn’t we?

But the payment did not come the next day.  Nor did it come within the next several days.  Poor Sandra spent all day, every day demanding our money.  The agent would give excuses and assure her he’d pay her the next day.  That exact routine was repeated for several days. 

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BIG file!
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Just when Sandra was positive that they all hated her for acting like a crazed woman while demanding the money, they offered her a job as their Marketing Manager because they admired her assertive, business-savvy attitude.  After finally paying her for the performance, they offered her an apartment, a car, and a handsome salary.  She graciously turned them down and switched her focus to getting herself out of the country. 

Now that we’re safely back home, our agent is talking about flying us out for a weekend in February to perform in a Bollywood concert. Sounds like fun, but we just don’t know if we can handle another glamorous overseas performance quite so soon! Plus, we are still waiting for Air India to locate and return the bags we checked through on the return flight to America!


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Ready for more?
1-13-05 The Grand International Bellydance Tour or How We Fled India at Midnight, Eluding Our Captors and Evading our Go-Go-Dance Responsibilities. or What Would Fifi Do? by Sandra and Michelle
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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.

1-10-06 The Dina Show! Photos by Catherine Barros, Slideshow coding by Tammy Yee
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1-9-06 Sirat Al-Ghawazi, Part 9 by Edwina Nearing
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