With age comes wisdom and I’m sharing some of that common sense. As dancers, we are sometimes so caught up in dance and the instructing and performing opportunities that arise that we forget about personal safety.
I place personal safety as my number one priority when accepting instructing and performing “gigs.” Through the years, I’ve experienced uncomfortable and dangerous situations. I’m sure that most dancers of any tenure have.
Before agreeing to instruct at a studio or a private home, I follow several personal rules:
1. I will not instruct after 8:30pm as a rule because I will not be getting home until 10:00pm. Being the only instructor/authority figure in a studio and being responsible for students and their safety after hours is a situation I have been in and prefer not to repeat. I’ve had some scary incidents like intruders entering the studio, though I’ve kept doors locked and irate boyfriends of students “visiting” and making trouble. I also prefer not to lock up/close a studio by myself, turning out lights etc. while my students are long gone.
2. I assess the safety of the neighborhood and location. If an area has a high crime rate, a number of dangerous instances like armed robberies or rapes, I will not instruct there. If a neighboring business employs security guards, I would think twice about teaching at the nearby studio.
3. Empty or near-empty parking lots. I have taught in places where the entrance/exit is in back near dumpsters, dark and forlorn and not very well lit. I’ve actually had rats race in front of me. There are also empty parking garages with elevators and stairwells. Don’t hesitate to ask security to accompany you, if they are available. Walking out with students can add a safety by numbers feeling. There are times when I’ve walked with my dance sword unsheathed for safety. I’ve had visions of headline stating, “Belly dancer whacks robber with her sword.”
4. I only instruct for and with people who have been recommended to me, people I trust and I rely on my intuition. Some people are wonderful but the locations are not.
Before I agree to perform at an event, I have my own rules:
1. I qualify the person hiring me. I only work with talent agencies who respect me and what I do. I only perform at family-friendly venues and events. When someone calls me regarding a “gig,” I ask enough questions and must feel completely comfortable with the answers. I also listen to that inner voice, intuition. I will not dance for bachelor parties, and male-only events and the event must be family-friendly.
I have had some interesting inquiries. One young man asked me if I danced at birthday parties. When I asked him how many guests were attending, he replied, “Just you and me.” Wrong answer! I have been asked, even by women hiring for parties, my age, bra size, body shape and how skimpy my costume would be. I have been asked about lap dances. I have referred these people to strip clubs.
2. Location. Once again, safety first. If a neighborhood has a seedy reputation and this is an evening gig, I politely decline. Even if the neighborhood is fine, if the “gig” is an evening affair from a stranger, I bring my husband along as driver and guard.
4. I’m careful of parking lots and parking garages (especially elevators and stairwells). Another reason to bring a husband or male friend along for security.
3. I ask enough questions to prevent misunderstanding regarding what is expected, dance space and acoustics and price. I don’t like surprises.
4. Also, I try not to wear my costume while driving, unless completely covered up and accompanied by my husband. Attracting unwanted attention can be hazardous as well. What is your car breaks down and you are attired in cabaret garb? Talk about unwanted attention!
There a some other safety considerations. I am CPR/AED/First Aid certified and find that this knowledge is important when instructing solo or with a group of students. One never knows when an emergency can take place.
I have taken a self-defense class. You can’t let your guard down but must be aware of your surroundings and those around you.
Keep you cell phone handy and on. When walking to your car, keep your keys ready to open you car door quickly and lock yourself inside immediately. Don’t dawdle. Leave quickly.
Always remember that your life is far more important than dancing and getting a paycheck. Be careful and watch your back!!!