Mumbai’s bar dancers, while happy about the imminent reopening of dance bars, are also afraid that the state government’s strict new conditions will stifle their profession. However, a few dancers say they welcome at least some of the conditions, especially those aimed at preventing sexual harassment.
Shabnam, a dancer from Borivli, said, “Some people felt that showering money on us and dancing with us was obscene. Now, there will be a gap between the stage and customers, so there will not be any scope for obscenity or indecency. Customers will give us money through stewards instead.”
Among the state’s conditions for allowing dance bars to reopen are a three-foot partition and a five-foot buffer zone between the dancers and customers, and a ban on throwing money at the dancers.
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Activist Varsha Kale, who has long been fighting for the rights bar girls, said the new rules could even help dancers negotiate better deals. “The conditions make it clear what role one has to play. Now, our girls can negotiate their salary and other perks with bar owners. They are happy that only four performers will be allowed on the stage at a time, as this will help them earn more from tips. We have started holding discussions with bar owners,” she said.
Kale said that the 11-year ban on dance bars has all but wiped out the old generation of dancers. “There were about 75,000 bar dancers in 2005. However, almost none of them are in a condition to return to the profession. Now, girls from traditional performing communities and even the film industry are interested in joining dance bars,” Kale said.