SINGAPORE: Soft lighting. Garish interiors. Smoky surroundings. Sylphlike, eighteen year olds swaying seductively to loud bollywood music. Wealthy men, generously showering money on dancers. The sights and sounds are familiar; nearly identical. The setting isn’t that of a dance bar in Grant Road or Tardeo — but of one in Singapore’s up market entertainment district, Boat Quay. While the moral police clamped down on the infamous hotspots of Mumbai, dance bars have been thriving in this part of the world. Around 13 such bars have set up shop in Singapore, three in Malaysia and one in Jakarta.
“Dance bars have been operating here since 1994,” said the owner of Khazana, the first of its kind in Singapore “and it is a perfectly legal to run them. We are required to have an entertainment licence from the government which is the same for people wanting to set up a lounge bar or a pub. In addition we have to get a dancers licence.” The bar owners are required to pay a bond sum of S$3,000 (Rs 75,000) for each dancer, refundable on their return to India. The girls have to obtain a professional visit pass, lasting for three months.
“We usually bring in batches of 12 which besides dancers includes singers and musicians,” says Rakesh Belani, owner of Khushi and Khel,“ The dancers change every three months and they get a salary of S$2,500 (Rs 62,000) to S3,000(75,000) per month.” However, according to some the rates are usually lower than what is quoted. Girls usually come down from Mumbai, Delhi and Chandigarh but the selection procedure could be long and arduous. Underage girls are not permitted.” Some owners have auditions. We place advertisements,” says Satya Moorthy, partner Bollywood Dhoom and Haldi, “We prefer to bring in girls from dance institutes and even ask for resumes to be sent in,”
Bar owners have a wide range to choose from and occasionally things get uncomfortable. “Sometimes mothers urge us to select their daughter,” notes Belani.
Perhaps, what sets the business apart from their Indian counterparts is the clean image they are required to maintain. The girls are not allowed to take in customers as that could result in immediate cancellation of their entertainment licence.
As for these girls, things are not easy. Their passports are taken away from them for “safe keeping” by owners. “End of the day they are girls and we can’t risk anything,” says Moorthy. They are not allowed to step out of their apartment without an escort. Very often they see little of Singapore. “Kuch nahi dekha,” says Rakhi,(name changed) who hails from Mumbai, “Pehle Dubai me thi, aur abhi Singapore.Lekin ghar or bar ke siva kuch malum nahi hai.” Most don’t bother pondering over such considerations. “The money was better in India,” says Neha,(name changed) “But now there is little we can do so it’s better if we get picked up for such oversees assignments.”
Most bars owner here feel that strict guidelines and government monitoring could improve the murky image the industry has in India. “There is nothing morally degrading about such entertainment,” says a bar-owner. “Maybe a little bit of policing is needed.”
In the opinion of girls, closure of dance bars, back home, makes little sense. “Kya fayeda? We will be forced to look at other options which are even less respectable,” concludes Neha.