A pretty inexplicably crazy incident happened to me a few days back. My immediate thought was “ What a fucking waste of time to have to deal with this shit, unnecessarily”. But since I had spent some time on dealing with the issue already, I thought why not give it a little more and change the situation from being a mere irritant into something valuable to some other dancers.
So here it goes, I present to you my post on the subtle or not so subtle Art of Bullying a Bully.
I am dealing with the microcosm of the dance scene in India, how it is replete with bullying and probably how it is perhaps an apt reflection of the macrocosm of our Indian culture.
I am tough. Tougher than most people I know. Men included. It could be because of the fact that I am and have always been very tiny, occupying little space, easy to brush to the side. A very easy target for bullies. I grew up playing cricket with the most rowdy boys on the street. The kind of boys ,who were children my age, but would steal beedis from construction workers and smoke it behind the expansive protection of the Gul mohar tree on our street. Another favourite pastime of theirs was singing lewd songs and flashing the girls who worked in the beauty parlour down my street. There would be a lot of fighting going on when we played.I’ve even got a scar on my hand where one boy in the middle of a fight got a blade out and tore my forearm.
I learnt to survive, to strategize, to stand up for myself. I got so good at this, I was even made captain of one of the teams., which possibly is my highest achievement till date.
With rowdy boys it is easy. The bullying is very apparent. And when you assert your power they back off and there is a possibility for even mutual respect and friendship later.
However the bullying in the dance world is not so apparent. It’s very insiduous. A lot of times it was only post the incident that I even realised what a big bully that person had been. It has taken me sometime to understand and deal with this. But I am happy to share this information with you if it will help you recognise bullying in your own life.A friend who does training for big corporates on leadership, recently messaged and told me “ people should learn how to be assertive from you.”. And its probably true. If there’s one thing I could hope to contribute, perhaps it’s this. And perhaps someone reading this may learn to cope with an unpleasant situation in a better way.
In the dance community you are not encouraged to speak if you are not very old, very rich or very male. Me being none of the above was constantly told to just follow instructions and not ask any questions. This led to a lot of bullying. And I was not able to raise my voice or stand up for myself because I was led to believe that it was super disrespectful. In fact, I have even broken down and cried on some occasions because I have wanted to speak against the injustice of the situation, but kept telling myself I shouldn’t. I created an inner conflict which could only be resolved at that moment by a fountain of tears. This kind of conflict serves no purpose and needs to go.
Let’s first look at this crazy incident that happened to me. There I was going about my normal day when I get a message from a friend. It has a screenshot of a dancer’s Facebook post and this is what it says:
click on image to enlarge
I don’t want to reveal the name of the dancer because my fight is not against her, and this post is far more important than this petty thing she just did. If you are a dancer you will probably know whom I’m talking about anyway. And if you don’t know, then I don’t want to be the person who is slinging mud on someones name.
I couldn’t understand where this came from because there was absolutely no need for this. In 2012 as soon as I started my dance school, I had no work because despite several applications it was clear I wasn’t going to get a chance to perform anywhere. Also I had one single student. For the longest time. She was a very interesting, fun person so I still loved my classes, but apart from those couple of hours a week I didn’t have any work to do.
It was during this time that this disparaging dancer started calling me incessantly, inviting me to dance in her program because she was short of dancers. I agreed because she was so ingratiating and I thought why the hell not! Throughout rehearsals she was always extra polite with me, and a lot of fellow dancers even told me sarcastically how clever I am because I’m being paid twice as much as they are. (Which then goes into the complex area of dancers disparaging people for being smart but perhaps that requires a different post altogether). On the performance day I introduced her to my partner SG who even told her that he is there as my cameraman to film the dance.
By 2013 I had still not become wise and I was applying futilely for festivals. Someone suggested adding video links to my application. I had only 3 videos of me dancing on our handicam. One group, one duet and one solo. I uploaded the solo as a longer video and edited the other two and put it under groups/duets. None of the YouTube videos had any text, in fact I had not even understood YouTube properly then. It was just a means of uploading my video. I would apply for festivals saying “ I am the dancer in maroon”. Needless to say this strategy didn’t work either!
It took me sometime to understand my purpose as a dancer. And I started breaking free from the very narrow confines I was trying to squeeze myself into. And after that life took a very nice different turn for me.
And after all these years at the tail end of 2017 without any rhyme, reason or warning she decides to post this. Completely character assassinate me. And 200 people or so decide to join her in the mud fest and call me all kinds of names, including a fraud, a cheat, someone who has lost my soul, and other really unpleasant things.
I want to talk about another incident too before we get into the actual post itself (hey I’m a talker! get used to it!). A week or so before this I had posted on a public forum on how we should be looking to improve the management of a certain dance school. You may ask me, if this wasn’t mud slinging or bullying on my part as well. Simple answer is- it wasn’t. For the more complex answer let’s get into the post
How To Recognise a Bully?
1.Bullies are very averse to dialogue.
For instance this dancer who posted this about me had blocked me on Facebook and there was no way to respond to her through that platform. Also when my friend Sindhu posted this on her wall: she immediately deleted the comment and blocked Sindhu as well. Btw great to have friends no?!
Dialogue is a meaningful exchange. Not just people repeating their stand over and over again without substance. Dialogue doesn’t mean bringing in non-related issues, or talking from a stand point where you clearly have no knowledge about the situation. In a dialogue people exchange value. People who are against dialogue are violent. And this is a big trademark of a bully.
2. Bullies are power hungry
How do you recognise power hungry people? Power hungry people tend towards hierarchical structures. They love status-quo and don’t do well with change. They don’t like questions. They like to exert control by manipulation, don’t like being open and sharing information.
Let me give you an example. Some years ago I was working with a certain senior dancer, whom I am not going to mention, because I have nothing personal against her. And she is one of too many similar people in the dance field. We were working towards a production and had regular rehearsals. One day a dancer messaged asking me about something and I said – hey, i’ll meet you at rehearsals anyway so I’ll tell you then. Then this dancer said – “ What rehearsals? I haven’t been informed.” I said “ We are working towards this show, how come you don’t know? Why don’t you message and ask her about it.”
This harmless incident turned into some kind of ugly power issue. With that senior dancer sending me a curt email informing me that it is not my place to disclose information, because she had decided she didn’t want this particular dancer anymore. She had not even bothered to inform this person or me, so tough luck on that!
This made no sense to me. And I replied – “ I’m getting fed up of this (or something along those lines) Also I clearly mentioned I don’t want to work for someone who tells me what my place is. (I’m allergic to such language) Her reaction was very interesting. She immediately picked up the phone and told me in these exact words “ If you leave this production, don’t come to me asking me for a recommendation later.” I had never dreamt of asking for this in the first place. I only joined her production because I thought the work would be interesting not because I needed anything from her or her “name”. What I wanted to say was “moham moozhgi paazhaagaathey maya vaazhvu sathama” what I said instead was “ That’s the last thing you ever have to worry about” .
Very important Tip: Look out for people who use terms such as “How can You say this?”. These are the people who want to put you “in place”, in a box, where they define what you are allowed to say or not say. Instead the kind of people you want to surround yourself with or be yourself, are the people who say “ Why do you say this?”, “What’s the reason?” “ Tell me more” These are the people who want to hear you, want to understand the situation. And have no issues with you talking. And they don’t think that if you raise a question you are holding a cannon ball in your hand.
Random Fact: Bullies also often use Caps when they type. LIKE THEY ARE SCREAMING EVERY SENTENCE IN YOUR FACE. This is true, I’ve studied bullies and find this a common trait.
3. Bullies like to ostracise
Bullies understand one thing very well. Which is strength in numbers. They like to draw lines on who can join something, and who has to stay on the other side of the line. Very clear caste systems. They like rallying support against a certain person. For instance getting 200 people on Facebook to mud sling a person they don’t even know.
Very Important Tip Number 2: We all have a great need to belong. However social ostracisation or being a social outcaste is not a bad thing. I am often a social outcaste in many different scenarios. It is difficult to deal with in the beginning. But you soon realise there is a complete alternate society of us black sheep! Only when you get yourself out-casted from “normal” society, you join a tribe of your kind. And they go out of their way to shower love on you. Then you wish that you had gotten outcasted earlier.
The only time I would be terrified of being a social outcaste is, if I had done something to deserve it. For instance if I had been a bitch and posted something so awful about another dancer, whether it was warranted or not, and seeing that if society had ostracised me, then I would’ve felt terrible. But otherwise when you’ve done no evil then just happily get thrown out, thats the first way to find your tribe.
4. Bullies are anti-growth, anti-connection, anti-change, anti-humour
Change often means challenging hierarchy. Bullies don’t like that. I remember when I started my dance school, I enrolled in a senior dancer’s workshop to learn an item. When I walked in, there was a group of established Odissi teachers and the whole lot of workshop participants, including kids. One teacher said – ‘Oh look who is here. The new big Guru!’ Then she asked me ‘ So Ashwini what should we call you now? Should I say Guru? Should I fall on your feet?’ I said ” Didi you can call me Ash because that’s what my students call me, and the idea that they have to touch my feet will make them laugh very hard”.
Coming to this incident on hand: Frankly on the day this happened, I was very amused. When other dancers messaged me in support, I told them- We should be more understanding, I think she’s going through menopause.
So tongue-in-cheek I sent this to a WhatsApp group of Odissi dancers in Bangalore the next day.
This is the reply I got on
My reaction- Yeah Right!
On the issue of credits/copyrights: ever since I started dancing professionally in 1998, I have come across some dancers who are always harping about how other people are copying them. I’ve always felt this was such a waste of time and this was creating barriers in this already small island for no purpose. For one it is dance for Christsake! It is meant to connect, not divide. Secondly there is nothing original in this world. Thirdly you should not have that big an ego to assume your work is so wonderful that other dancers want to copy it and that because they copied it they became superstars. (I really don’t know for sure what goes on inside their heads. maybe someday we can sit over a cup of coffee or better still a glass of kombucha and talk it over. then i will have better insight)
Kelucharan Mohapatra never worried about it one bit. Went out spread his dance, made connections, and is so alive through his work till today.
But coming to the issue of credits anyways. Like I said, I hadn’t posted anything on those videos. I posted the video only for two reasons 1) I needed some video to show people how I dance and I had only three videos and uploaded them all 2) I thought for once I had got my make up right and I didn’t look half bad.
But if she had simply asked me to I would’ve credited her name. I would have also credited Kelucharan Mohapatra’s and Ratikant Mohapatra’s name because the video has me dancing all three of their dances. Also I would have asked her to credit the names of the dancers in the video she has uploaded. Pot calling kettle black my friend! Unfair to leave out the names of the dancers who worked hard for your show. Don’t they deserve it as well?
6. Bullies use shame as a tool
This is when I stop laughing. Because I hate it. I hate it when a person/society uses shame to control another person. This lady could have messaged me and said – “ Please add credits” which I would have promptly done. Instead she chose to publicly shame me. This happens a lot in different scenarios. In a very low level it shows up as a Facebook shaming post. In more serious scenarios shame is used in very scary, dangerous ways. And I fucking hate it.
How do You Confront a Bully?
1.Raise Your Voice
I remember I was 16 standing in a bus stop. A guy who was in his 50s kept falling all over me even though the bus stop was empty and he could’ve stood anywhere. For sometime I was going through this phase of dealing with sick men on buses. I never really knew what to do. And kept finding myself thinking of what I could have done but didn’t. That particular day however without giving it much thought, I instinctively started shouting at him. By looking at his face it was clear this was the last thing he expected. It wasn’t really what I had expected either. But I somehow understood how I had taken my power back. I then told him go stand next to that tree. He moved away from me. Then I said in a very low controlled tone – “ I said go stand next to the tree.” You won’t believe it, but this big man actually walked all the way and stood next to the tree till he jumped onto the first bus that came there.
There is a lot of power in simply raising your voice. In any context.
2. Use your brains. Articulate
When in a situation involving bullying it is very easy to get emotionally mixed up. This hinders your thinking. For many people they feel uncomfortable in situations and get emotionally upset (quite like me breaking down in situations in the past) because they feel that something is not right, not just, or totally unfair. But it is not helpful to be merely emotional if you can’t articulate yourself. You need to be present in a manner where you see what exactly is going on. So you can speak up and make sense. This may sound difficult. But with a regular meditation practice of any kind that suits you, you begin to de-clutter your mind and improve your thinking and get clarity in situations. I have been practising regular meditation and self hypnosis for sometime now. This has changed my perspective immensely and improved my capacity to think exponentially as compared to before.
3. Don’t get scared
Like I mentioned earlier, Shame is a complex thing. But always keep your Shame Gauge within. You should be the one who steers your moral compass. Don’t allow people from outside to use shame as a tool against you. When they try to shame you, for no fault of yours, understand that these people are scummy weasels. Nothing to fear from scummy weasels
4. Don’t let nobility hold you back
I remember an incident where two artistes were bitching about another artiste. They would say two nasty things about her and then they would say ‘actually she is a nice person’. After 5 minutes of hearing that conversation I asked them – Why are you being so schizophrenic? They actually said – because we are not the bitchy type!”
We all tend to be funny like this. We will hold an ideal in our head and strive to be exactly like that. Not seeing how horrible we can be as well. So the best strategy is don’t define yourself as noble or as bitchy. You just are you. Another person trying to pay bills, making ends meet, making something of your life or just dealing with everything thrown at you. When people treat you nicely, you be nice. When people treat you like shit- don’t stand for it. That doesn’t make you a bitch. Even if people do call you a bitch, remember that bitches are far more fun.
Also people who tend to think they are Mother Theresa and don’t say anything against their Bully, often repress it inside and it turns into something else, and they find life dull or difficult without being able to name a reason of why it is so. But people who speak up and say what they have to (not ‘want to’ but ‘have to’. Because no one likes unpleasant conversations. But unpleasant conversations are necessary) are much free-er. The simple fact that I have spoken against my bullies, makes me hold no personal resentment against them. I can happily see them anywhere without any discomfort inside me.
Don’t be an arsehole yourself. But when confronted with a jerk, you not standing up against them only allows more jerkiness in the world.
5. Be open minded. But not so open minded that the wind whistles in your head.
This means try to be open so that the exact issue can be uncovered. Being scared of your bully, being respectful towards your bully, thinking of yourself as a lesser human being than your bully, all of this creates an atmosphere which is averse to truth.
People think being open means, to take all the criticism and bullying from someone and not say a word. You have to understand if the criticism is coming from someone genuine. For that you need to stay open. But when you realise it’s coming from a weasel then you don’t have to engage anymore. Engaging with jerks is futile. Be ready for dialogue, but be open to realise what is dialogue and what isn’t.
I have had great gurus (i don’t mean dance gurus) whose words have made me a much free-er person. I believe that words have that power to lead us to freedom.You as a dancer may have come across bullying as well, and may relate to this and this may help you feel more free. Or you maybe someone who thinks this post is total bullshit. Either ways feel free to comment. Also tell me if I have overlooked something in my thesis on B.S :Bully Studies.
Another big point of writing this post is to tell people to think not once or twice but 49 times and once again for good luck, before they think of messing with me. Because you know what I’ll do? Yeah that’s right. Write another fucking long post