Gilded Serpent presents...
at Belly Dance Show
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.
Day 1 - Dec 30, 2003
first clue that my belly dance performance in Indore, India,
was going to be a big deal was that the press was waiting for
me when I got off the plane. There were photos of me at
the airport (after a 35 hour journey), photos of me in front
of the hotel, photos of me in the lobby and photos of me having
traditional red paint smeared on my forehead. Also, there
were TV cameras. interviews. more interviews. and more photos.
All of this
attention surprised me. All I knew was that I was going
to do a show at a 5-star hotel on New Year's Eve. I had
no idea that it was going to be so newsworthy! I was
about to be more newsworthy than I bargained for.
Day 2 - New Year's Eve
My husband sent
me an email entitled "Hindu Nationalists Denounce Bellydance." I
thought it was a joke, but it contained a link to a story in the
Hindustan Times Online; BAJRANG DAL ISSUES THREAT AGAINST NEW YEAR
CELEBRATIONS. The threat was not only focused on the city
of Indore, but it specifically mentioned my show.
Dal activists have also decided to stage a torch rally
in Indore to warn all hotel and restaurant owners against
holding 'Western and vulgar' dances".
They say they
will stop any programs that are "against Indian traditions."
Needless to say,
that was troubling! However, it explains why everyone kept assuring
me how tight security would be. I printed out the story and
took it to the hotel management to ask if they knew anything about
this. They assured me that it was not a problem, and that
I should not worry. They said that no one would be allowed
past the front gate without a ticket. "Don't worry. Tight
security. No problem."
Here is the
situation: my picture is plastered all over the city and is
on the front page of every newspaper. When I left America,
the threat level was Orange and airport security was over the
top. Militant, extremist activists have directly threatened
me. I am in rural, conservative India, a place with deep
social tension. a place I do not understand.
I am being made into a symbol of the demise of traditional
Indian culture. There are people starving just outside
the gates of this 5-star hotel, while others are paying
$70 for a ticket to my show. Suddenly I feel that
I am in over my head.
ushered me to the stage through a labyrinth of back passageways. As
I was getting ready in the "green room" (which was actually
a tent), I heard a commotion coming from not too far away. At
first I just heard car horns beeping in long, repetitive tones. I
figured that that would be the extent of the protests, but it
was not. I started to feel jittery and anxious. Not
only was my show about to be televised (live) nationwide, but
there was now an angry mob in the equation.
came the chanting. Before I heard the chanting, I could halfway
convince myself that the horns were just a result of the locals
partying hardy for the New Year, but the chanting was angry.
out later that they were doing an ancient war chant.
also the sounds of movement and chaos. There were the
sounds of protesters, armed with swords, smashing the hotel's
windows with bricks and throwing balloons filled with paint
and acid at people who were trying to enter the hotel.
Then I heard
the MC start the show. My heart was thumping even though
I was not yet aware of the full extent of the danger.
My music starts. I
enter the stage. I see the audience of two thousand. My mind
skips around: "so many lights.. Wow, I am projected
on a giant TV screen.. Try not to look at myself in the TV
screen for too long.. Good, I am looking okay..
was that? Oh, it was just a firecracker; they should have
mentioned that there would be firecrackers! Keep smiling. Wait
a second! My music has stopped mid-song! I decide
to just bow and leave the stage.."
I thought that
my music had stopped because of some technical screw-up, but
the real reason was that a mob of protesters has gotten inside
the hotel. At that moment, the hotel staff had joined
the security team in beating back the angry mob.
I heard that the cooks came out of the kitchen with their
knives, fighting back the protesters! Every able-bodied
hotel employee joined the fight. There were many
injuries, and several people ended up in the hospital.
My music started
up again after about 5 minutes. I was still totally unaware
of what was happening. When I returned to the stage, I was
a little more relaxed. I started to play with the notion
that I was in the middle of a media circus. There were
TV cameras everywhere and trucks with giant dishes for live
broadcasts. There were light bulbs flashing everywhere. I
smile and begin to enjoy myself.
I see a table
of guests wildly waving their hands around, trying to get my
attention. They start waving and blowing kisses at me
when I finally notice them. When I smile at them, they
jump out of their seats and start dancing wildly. I think
to myself, "That is a good sign." Then the entire crowd
comes running toward the stage! Security forms a tight
line in front of the stage, pushing back the excited, drunken
crowd. A man jumps up on stage and starts dancing with
me. He seems harmless, so I dance with him while the
crowd cheers us on. Security literally tackles him and
drags him away!
thinking that it will be difficult to return to dancing
in California at half empty Persian restaurants after
I never saw
the rioters. Had I not heard them I would have never
known that they were there. The security team did an
next morning I could see that the entire front of the hotel had
been smashed up. Windows were broken and blue paint was
splattered all over.
It turned out
that the riots were national news. Every newspaper in
the country had a story about the riots and the show. The
politics of the extremists and their relationship with the
government are too complicated to explain in this article,
but in the following days, the highest officials would comment
about the incident.
for me, I had been booked for two other performances that week,
and although they were in different cities, both venues canceled
because of the controversy surrounding my previous show.
When I arrived
home, I slept for three days straight!
will be doing a performance tour of China with 19 other Bay
Area artists in September of 2004. She promises to report
back to the Gilded Serpent upon returning.
a comment? Send
us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for
other possible viewpoints!
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