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Bar Bar Dekho!

Ever been to a Mumbai dance bar? Ever wondered what goes on behind them? Dancewihshadows.com takes a peep behind the silky curtains.


Let me start off by saying that I am not an authoritative source on this. Still I am forced to write this because several of the authoritative sources we contacted have a chronic problem with writing. More informed readers are welcome to write in to us.

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A journalist lost in a dance bar

Dance bars are unique to Mumbai. They do thrive in many other Indian cities too, but in no other place is it as established and accepted as in Mumbai Meri jaan. There are hundreds of them in this city, but many of them operate in a way which makes them invisible to all but the experienced eye. You may have never noticed a dance bar thriving in your locality for a long time, if you are never clued into this. But a dance bar regular will be able to spot one from a distance. The radiations emitted by the dance bar can be picked up only by the trained antenna.

Along a row of shops can be seen a small door, usually wooden and carved, with some innocuous or sometimes suggestive title board saying XYZ Restaurant. I am yet to come across name board which says "Dance BarĒ. At the door stands the uniformed bouncer, some times one, may be two. Tune your ears, and you can hear the soft thump of Hindi film music in the distance. 

The man at the door has the discretion to let you enter or stop you there. Mostly, you are welcomed by a warm handshake and "How're you sir, Good evening sir" etc. Often, there is also a management person at the door, apart from the sentry. The door opens.

Suddenly, the decibel level shoots up. You are in a sound-proofed corridor, and one of the men at the door takes you through the corridor. The corridor opens into the innards of the darkened Mumbai dance bar. The chamber welcomes you with deafening noise. 

Once the eye adjusts to the darkness, you see you are at one end of an atrium, with reclining sofas and seats spread close to the walls, a dance floor in the middle and girls and women "dancing". There are seats strategically closer to the dance floor where you have a better view of the dancers. In any case, it doesn't matter where you are seated, because so long as you are stuffed with cash, the dance will come to you if you want it.
The performing girls and women are clad in traditional ghagra cholis and navel-revealing skirts, low-cut blouses and colorful accessories. There is little with them that you find vulgar or dirty. And to the music of thumping Hindi film music, they perform what goes on under the name of dance.

The dances are pathetic, to say the least. Very few of them can dance. Most of the women just shake their hips and bodies and pretend like they are dancing. The more they try to make it better, the more pathetic it looks. There is no fixed number to how many dancers there maybe. It can be a dozen or more. Sometimes, less than 10. 

You can see dance bar patrons among people of all age groups, communities and castes. There is true socialism here. There are teenagers (who have tried hard at looking grown-up) and there are the 50-plus. The audience, still, is overwhelmingly male.

The "dance" is accompanied by a shower of money. You can walk up to your favourite dancer and shower her with money. There is no limit to how much money you should throw. Abdul Karim Telgi showered a girl with a whole Rs 1 crore a day. The lesser mortals throw less. The dancer dances in a hail of currency, while the smitten bar-goer throws the currency on. The showering is addictive.

I seriously believe someone should research on the psychology of the money shower. In many cases, it is not even as if the money is thrown to entice the girl and pick her up after the show is over. My theory is that the showering of money on a dancing girl gives the thrower a temporary feeling of power and virility. Several avid money throwers have confessed to me that it gives them a "high" in bathing the dancer in currency. 

But it need not always be like that. Money is not thrown on everyone. The prettiest gets the most. The moneybag spots 'his' girl and the cash comes out.

Showering is not the only way in which you can spend money at a dance bar in Mumbai. Many customers signal the girl to come over, hold her hand, and pass a couple of notes which can be just 10s or even 500s. Depends on how much money you got and how much you are smitten.

Many customers ask the dancers to come and sit with them and chat. The empty chat goes on. You ask her name; she says she is Rosy. Or Pinky. or Susie. It doesnít matter. No one of them gives the real name in the first encounter. You ask her for her number. If she gives a number, it is false. If she gives the place where she lives, usually it is a lie.

You canít blame them. They operate in a high-risk field and wouldn't want any desperado trailing them after the show. It is only after several encounters that any of them will dare to share their personal details with you.
Again, it is not always the same. Many dance bars double up as pick-up joints and a front for prostitution. For many dancers - not all - sleeping with the client is the alternate revenue stream. There are no fixed charges here.

It is interesting to study the revenue division between the bar girl and the bar management. What happens to the money showered on a girl? The currency is mopped up by a bar assistant, usually attired in suits and pinstripes, and the money is deposited into a box meant for the dancer. At the end of the day's business, the shower money is divided between the dancer and the management in a preset ratio. Usually, it is 40% for the dancer and 60% for the bar. The ratio varies across bars.

In dance bars trading in flesh, the rules are different. Here, the ratio is tilted in favour of the dance bar management. The girls are supposed to "make money on their own" and only a fixed performance fee goes to the dancers.

Many of the deals are fixed up within the bar itself. Again, there no fixed rate; it's the girl who retains the command. If she doesn't want to go with a customer, the customer cannot force her. The customers are forbidden from touching the dancers without their consent. There are watchful eyes all around.

Many of the girls are forced into this profession from poor and broken families where the girl is the sole earning member. An average dancer in an average Mumbai dance bar can easily make about Rs 500 per day. That adds up to about Rs 15,000 per month, tax-free. 

The money brings its own problems. The easy money immediately lifts the living standards of the poor family. For average-earners, there is always the lure of currency bundles which come with a simple "yes" to a customer. Dance bars, when they donít encourage prostitution, turn a blind eye to these amorous adventures. 

Many dance bars have rooms where the customer can take their chosen girl. The money is always paid upfront-no scope for disputes later. And be ready for protected sex.

Compared to standalone prostitution, sex through the dance bar route, it appears, keeps the woman in command. The woman doesnít have to pay pimps for business and policemen for protection. The bar takes care of them to some extent. Many of them are picked up from home to work and car-dropped later to avoid trouble. Dance girls on the floor are usually safer than ordinary women travelling late at night in troublesome areas. If you behave with a dancer like she is easy game, be prepared for trouble. Many of the bars strongly discourage drunken behaviour, though there is hardly anyone there who is not drunk.

For several dance bar regulars, it is mostly "unwinding" or an innocent way of post-work entertainment. For several others, it is access to a more well-behaved sex worker. Same with the dancers. For many, it is "majboori". And for many others, it is a way to making a fast buck with little effort. 


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