17 Ways to Avoid It
by Samira Shuruk
posted March 17, 2014
Every day we go to places where we are surrounded by strangers!
In every day life we get into elevators without bodyguards. We go into buildings, unfamiliar workplaces, appointments, and parties (by only one invitation sometimes, not knowing everyone). Women talk to strangers at bars all the time and sometimes let them walk them to their car… Women are bartenders, working late at night; women go into parking garages at night. This is our world.
A woman can work in a financial firm and have something bad happen to her. A student is not safe even in a school sometimes. Beware of the broom closet, the teacher’s office, and the locker room; right? Beware of your own driveway and even in your own bed.
The possibilities are everywhere. To many women, these realities can seem quite scary, especially when they begin to discover the prospect of beginning gigging. As someone who has been gigging full time over 10 years (and before I started I had the guidance of two women with over 25 years each) I implore all dancers to have a mentor guide them on careful screening and gig safety. The reality is, however, that not everyone has that type of resource available.
In our business, we also find ourselves surrounded by men. Some are not dangerous, so much as they are creepy. Learning to set boundaries with this type of individual is essential. They do not have the right to make you feel like you need to take a shower after talking with them.
Also important is dealing with potential threats in a way that maintains our own dignity and integrity. Typically, there is no reason to be rude in setting boundaries or inquiring for information to assure our safety. Cool, calm and collected is the best way to portray self-assurance and awareness of your surroundings.
We all want to stay safe.
Here is the common-sense guide I typically share with my students:
- Screen your gigs by asking positively worded, open ended questions. “Yes, I can be available on that date. What kind of event are you having?” Most of the time, the answer is an obvious family affair; birthday party, wedding, anniversary, etc. At least 90 percent of these gigs are booked by women anyway, this question is the polite way to affirm that it’s not an all male party.
- Know the neighborhood. If you feel it might be sketchy, look into it. You don’t have to take the gig. If you feel you need to bring someone with you, charge extra for your assistant. Allow extra time to find parking near light. These are all common sense things. I will repeat, however, turn the gig down if you look it up and you see it is in “Drug and Prostitute Town.”
- If, when speaking with the potential client, you feel little red flags go up, mention that you plan to bring an assistant. Someone with bad intentions will not want you to bring anyone and they will most likely change their mind or try to dissuade you from bringing someone. Obviously, you will not let this happen.
Here is an example from my own career: A female security guard of a Saudi princess was being pushy in wanting to hire me that very night, but I didn’t want to do it. I more than quadrupled my price, and she said that was no problem. They were so insistent on me being the dancer requested that I felt a little uncomfortable so I said I would bring my own security. Her declaration that I would feel incredibly safe and did not need to bring one, of course, did the opposite of reassuring me. I brought a male friend as my escort and everything was fine.The moral, however, is always err on the side of caution!
- Exchange an email or contract. Create a paper trail. Most people with nefarious intentions do not want a paper trail.
- If you think a gig is going to be the next "Craig’s List Killer" (because those nut jobs leave a paper trail)… don’t go anywhere where you will be alone with one person (Duh! No "private parties" of that nature.) or a small, small group. As I mentioned in number 1, it’s almost always women booking us, for obvious family parties.
- The most paranoid amongst us will then respond “but how do you know it’s a family party?” Simple. When you arrive at a family party, there are lots of cars, and lights are ablaze. You can see people in the windows, you can hear voices and music. Sometimes there are balloons on the mailbox. There might be a catering truck in the driveway. These are all highly visible signs. If you get to a party and the house is not lit up, you do not go in. Call their number and say you think you have the wrong address. If they try to convince you to go in, what is your answer? Again, remember that this is your safety and you have the right to say “no.” In over a decade of heavy gigging this has never happened to me. It happened to Artemis Mourat just once in all her years dancing. So, don’t worry, just keep your wits about you.
- “I see lights and hear voices, but they’re all crazy drunk.” This is a simple thing to prevent with forethought and it goes back to when you first take the call for your gig. “What time does your event start?” “Oh, 9 p.m.? Wonderful! The best time for me to dance will be 10 O’clock. That way, everyone has arrived, and my show will be a wonderful conversation starter for the rest of the party.” After the first half hour, but before hour two starts is the magic time to dance. People have arrived and had one or two drinks, but no one is out of hand, yet. This is your responsibility to arrange this time frame. Drunk people will be drunk people. We are best served by simply planning to avoid them.
- Read The Gift of Fear by Gavin deBecker. It’s a wonderful book for all women but imperative for dancers. It teaches you to listen to your instincts, no matter how subtle.
- When arranging your gig, tell them you need a private place to change and secure place to leave your possessions. Usually they will provide you with an out of the way bedroom or
bathroom. Use the lock on the door. Also, have a small lock on your bag. As part of your show preparation, stash your valuables inside your bigger bag, I use a rolling suitcase, and lock it. Keep honest people honest. Sometimes the best way to do this is to eliminate temptation and convenience.
- Do not hesitate to ask someone to walk you out to your car if you feel it’s necessary. As you leave the party, make sure other guests know who is walking you. This can be done casually and easily, but it still has the effect of people feeling accountable. “Thank you so much Mrs. Host, your event was lovely. Your nephew is walking me out to my car.”
- On gig nights, let people know where you will be going. You can have a significant other or buddy serve as your “check in person” before and after gigs. This is kind of above and beyond for most people, but a good idea nonetheless.
We’re almost there! Let’s move on to dealing with individuals and setting boundaries without creating unnecessary conflict.
- First there are the obvious ones, they’d never be mistaken for Prince Charming. If there is an owner or manager who is creepy and inappropriate, tell other dancers immediately. “The owner of Kabob Castle, D’ AlGrumpy, I thought he was nice, and he didn’t seem threatening because he’s small, but in the back room he just tried to touch my magic apples.”
- “No, I will not date your son.” No nonsense and polite! It is okay to lie, and say you’re married or engaged. These claims usually work better than “I have a boyfriend.” However, if you carry yourself with professionalism and dignity, “boyfriend” can work.
- If you’re changing in an office or other back room, for goodness sakes check for security cameras. Put a scarf over it, unplug it or hide around a corner. Cameras are attached to recording equipment. While I mention this, also be sure to hide your undergarments in your bag. There is no reason for wandering staff to see your unmentionables. Act with dignity and they will be more likely to treat you with the respect you deserve.
- Keep work separate from your dating life. This goes without saying for all professions, for the most part. We have the added responsibility of fighting dancer stereotypes and presenting a respectable image. In addition, remember he was raised on the greats of Arab love poetry and the lyrics of Oum Kolthoum. He knows all the words to capture your heart and to charm your pants right on to the floor. Be prepared for charm.
- Don’t stay after closing time. In most situations, you should dance and leave soon after. If the owner wants to pay you at the end, or the band wants you to stay after to split tips, do not stay after the rest of the staff has gone home! Arrange to not be alone with any individual. If they’re insistent, tell them you have to get home to let your puppy out or something. It doesn’t matter. Don’t let people push you into alone time. Period.
- Beware the Passive-Aggressive Pusher. I’ll call him PAPy. PAPy will try to befriend you. PAPy is the guy who will compliment you a lot and will get more and will creep more and more forward with his words. As soon as you express discomfort, he will turn it around and blame it on you. You can’t take a joke. You misunderstood. You are too uptight. PAPy might even go so far as to blame feminism. Where did that come from; right? PAPy feels he has the right to objectify you. How dare you object! Turning it around and blaming you is a form of “gas-lighting” in which he is trying to make you doubt your own perceptions. It’s also a very mild form of victim blaming. PAPy is trying to make you feel bad for something he did. Don’t fall for it! If someone like this makes you uncomfortable, set boundaries, avoid the individual and share information honestly with others whom it might help.
These simple tips can help you stay safe and teach you what to look for in your surroundings. Use your common sense. Listen to your instincts. Always park under the light, and sometimes, carry a big sword.
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