Giving Good ‘No’ (to Unwanted Behaviors)

Posted on April 8, 2014 by

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20140408-013358.jpg I recently got a request from a reader:

Danced a gig this weekend and gave one of the photographers my business card so they could send pictures. Instead, I received an email that definitely made me blush and not in a good way…I don’t want to be rude by not responding, but I definitely don’t appreciate the conduct and don’t want to encourage it. Is this a common thing performers have to deal with? Luckily this occurred post gig and I am not having to deal with it on site. Isa, if you do write an article addressing this post, maybe you can include some pointers for dealing with unwanted behaviors on site.

I said, “I’ll work on that.” So, here I am. The first best advice I have is “Develop a Strong No” and I think that’s a great topic for an article because it definitely impacts how you run your performance business. It is absolutely a life skill to be able to confidently assert one’s boundaries. Boundaries are the things that allow us to differentiate what we want from what we don’t and without clarity on what our boundaries are, we can easily find confusion in our space. Therefore, Developing a Strong No first starts with understanding to what we are a “yes” and to what we are a “no”. As a fire dancing performance artist, boundaries apply to lots of things about which you make choices, many of which are safety oriented, including:

  • which fuel to use
  • how big the performance space needs to be
  • type of barrier between the artists and audience
  • how far the crowd can be from you
  • what clothing you’ll wear
  • how far you’ll travel
  • how little pay you’ll get
  • who you’ll work with
  • what makes you feel like you’re being safe with fire

…and a slew of other things that are regularly part of your experience as a performer. This list, undeniably, would benefit from the category, “what behaviors are unacceptable” because this is the way you, as an artist, can feel safe when you’re going to an unknown location meeting people you may never have met before. It can get tricky expressing boundaries when you’re working with clients and colleagues because you want to be clear without closing off communication. And let’s face it, sometimes healthy flirting is fun and works for you with one person while maybe not for another. It’s not necessarily a black or white  set of guidelines that defines all your interactions on site, particularly if part of your performance persona is about engaging the audience in flirty ways. One of the great things about doing fire is that you must do it with someone else: your fire safety. I have always made it a practice to travel with a fire safety person who not only could get my back safety wise, but I also thought, could verbally and physically stand up in my defense. I also confess, I have opted for men over women to assist with the “personal safety” aspect of performing many times. There’s something to be said for that because even if we, as empowered women, know we can stand up for ourselves, culturally, men are still seen as the ‘stronger sex’ and men will respond differently when there is a strong man present. Apart from deterring them by bringing a strong male with you, here’s a few ways to gracefully handle unwanted advances:

  • establish a code word, phrase or gesture that you have with your team mates that indicates you need to be helped out
  • redirect the person asking to someone else with whom you’re traveling so you can both answer the questions and extricate yourself from the unwanted advances. Hand them off directly with a personal introduction.
  • if they ask you out and you’re not interested, thank them and tell them you’re unavailable. Depending on the aggressiveness of the advance, you might even make it clear you’re unavailable permanently — swing the other way, already married, committed to a life of chastity… whichever works. 😉
  • if you have a revealing costume, bring a long coat, cape, robe or some other garment and cover up when your set is over so there will be less temptation to treat you like something to be objectified after the performance is complete. Remember, as a performer, you are asking, on some level, to be objectified. Once you step off the stage, a change in costume is an easy way to ensure you’re seen a person, rather than just a performer. To that end, choose your costumes wisely and experiment with how much skin you show and how people respond.
  • give yourself permission and perhaps most importantly, be comfortable with the fact that you are saying no.

If you have other article requests, please leave a comment and if you’re looking for more information, check the articles section of this website. And, as always, consider donating, even if it’s just $1, if this article helped you and you’ll be helping me get you more awesome information. 🙂

Written by Temple of Poi founder and visionary, GlitterGirl, who has been a full time flow arts coach and instructor since 2002. If you seek professional guidance associated with creating a safe performance, obtaining a permit in San Francisco or other personalized coaching, contact GlitterGirl directly for a free consultation (GlitterGirl <that pretty little at symbol> TempleOfPoi <daaaaaaaught> com).

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