Slander and Libel
I try to keep it positive here on the blog. But I’ve been noticing–thankfully not experiencing (at least, as far as I can tell)–some worrying problems in the belly dance community.
One of the best things about being a belly dancer is being able to work with wonderful, talented ladies. The problem is that women tend to be vicious to one another. This is sad. Egos get over-inflated, dancers get defensive and easily insulted. Back-biting happens over gigs and professional ethics. Body shaming happens (luckily not as often in our community as in the rest of the country), friendships end, whole communities get split apart. People vaguebook.
Consider this a friendly reminder that there is such a thing as libel and slander. For those who don’t know, these are legal terms that apply to attacking a person in speech or print (falsely) and making it difficult, or impossible, for the victim to get work (in other words, some damage to their finances occurs) due to the attack on their character. Libel and slander are illegal, and you can get sued for them.
While it’s difficult to prove in court (libel and slander must be believable, untrue, and have caused harm), do you really want to risk having your name dragged through the mud for a libel or slander suit? Do you really want to put your community into that situation?
Keep the old adage in mind: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. And keep your nose in your own business.
Working in the “real world” (feel free to eye roll), when giving recommendations to potential employers, supervisors have to be very careful what they say. If they did not like the employee applicant in question, they can tell the truth, but they must be careful not to put personal judgements in their answers. If the employee applicant was lazy and never did their job, they cannot say that. What they can say is more like, “This employee did not meet the goals set for them.” While some will scream “political correctness,” this is the reality. To do otherwise opens the supervisor and the company to slander and libel suits. Any amount of exaggeration or personal opinion can be construed as slander or libel, and therefore subject to a suit.
Likewise in the dance community. If you did not like working with a dancer, then instead of slamming her (even on Facebook!), don’t say anything*. If someone, say a potential employer or director, asks you about that dancer, be honest, but keep your judgements and personal feelings to yourself. Stick to the facts. If you found her to be rude and irresponsible, or felt she had insulted you in some way, you can’t (or, rather, shouldn’t) say that. If you must say something, then politely state that you found her to be difficult to work with. Period. If the potential employer presses, again, stick to the facts. Say…because you did not get her music when requested, she did not show up to rehearsals, and was late to the show. Don’t say, “She’s so rude! I can’t stand her. She does this to get back at me for the time I didn’t go to her show because I was sick!”
(Note: I have a lot to say about professionalism in dance, and separating our professional lives from our personal ones…watch out for another blog post once I edit it and decide I won’t immediately get flamed for it).
And if you hear that a dancer is a rhymes-with-witch, and that’s it, keep this in mind. It might be gossip. It might be true. But don’t let slander or libel crush a dancer’s chances at a gig. It’s not legal…and you could find yourself entangled in something you don’t want any part of. If you hear something like this from another dancer, ask them why. Get facts, not opinions or personal feelings.
If it gets out that someone was not hired because of something another dancer said or heard, then you are vulnerable to a suit. People gossip, and someone may tell the wrong person and suddenly you find yourself in hot water for what you thought was just gossip.
Everyone gossips (yes, even me…). But let’s just be aware that gossip is not always innocuous. Let’s all support each other, and keep our negative opinions to ourselves.
And let’s not even get into the “She doesn’t deserve gigs!” territory, okay? That, too, is a judgement that none of us are qualified to make.
*I realize that many situations we dancers find ourselves dealing with require the opinions and support of other professional dancers, and many of us have turned to Facebook groups for help. That is fine, but I have seen many of those pleas for help turn into nothing more than the bashing of some dancer that did something to another dancer. This isn’t helpful (though I do understand it is therapeutic). Let’s still stick to the facts when searching for help in thorny ethical dilemmas.