Night Fahrenheit Dance Restaurants of Kathmandu
Archana Parajuli & Indu Nepal
KATHMANDU, July 5 - At a "dance restaurant" in Thamel, the atmosphere is loud and charged. Loud disarray of colored lights floods the tiny stage curiously ogled at by a titillated and drunken crowd. A dancer draped in a sarong prepares her performance for the night as the speakers blare a prelude to a Hindi "item" song that suggests, "Even naughty girls need love..."
This is at 10 p.m. and the night has just started. As the darkness progresses, the sarong will slowly be removed and the "festivity" ends up with the dancers performing a domesticated tame version of a western pole dance in two pieces.
Waitresses move around gracefully, often joining a table to serenade the customers for greater tips. There is a group of executives from a garment company; there are bald-headed rich-looking men scattered at several tables, and a number of thirty-something-looking guys.
"They say older guys leave larger tips," says a waitress standing nearby, referring to a particular old man surrounded by three young maidens. She takes orders and delivers them but has never been tipped. Asked why, she says she has been there for only a few weeks and is uncomfortable with the company of men.
"Also," says Preeti, "Older men are known to be gentle-hearted and loving while younger ones can be violent."
While taking up a bold profession as a bar dancer, certain inclination towards the gentler species of the opposite sex says something about their longing for love and care.
"Despite knowing their (the customers) intentions to be in such a place, I have an aching desire that there was somebody among the tables for me," says Kavita, a dancer in one of the busiest dance restaurants in the Valley.
Kavita, a widow at 22 and a mother of two, has had several proposals but turned them all down. "I wanted a home and a husband," she says. "Everybody wanted me to be their mistress; nobody wanted me in their homes."
Kavita says almost all the girls dream of finding a real match. "But those lured into relationships have always ended up being nothing more than a kept woman."
Besides the lives of the dancers, the dance restaurants are in themselves interesting for being multi-million rupees business. Rough estimates put the total number of dance restaurants in the valley to be around one hundred and fifty. On average, a restaurant earns between Rs.100,000 to 150,000 as profit in a month, brought in mainly by the huge markup in the foods and beverages served.
And one competent dancer can bring the crowd storming in where they are pampered by waitresses and hostesses. Usually these "best" dancers are discovered by "head hunting" scouts, and restaurants compete in prices as well as with other benefits to lure them onto their stages.
"In the business, best dancers are the ones who are comfortable in glamorous and skimpy outfits," says a dance restaurateur in Thamel. "They are the restaurant�s USP, and the success of the business depends on them."Such dancers are paid between Rs. 10 to15 thousand monthly. Others earn roughly between 5-9 thousand. There are male dancers as well, roped in to accompany the female dancers in duets, but they are among the least paid dancers, usually earning below 5,000 rupees.
Dance restaurants have often been alleged as fronts for prostitution and often being subject to police raids. But say owners, the employees are strictly required not to indulge in any such activities during working hours and that they are dropped at their residences after work.
Dance restaurant entrepreneurs also allege that the much-publicized raids in the dance restaurants are carried out by the police in their own self-interest. A restaurateur says the police are paid to let them open for longer hours, and "in cases of grudges, they go raiding the whole place."
Perhaps true, as area inspector Ashok Singh says the police have never caught anybody involved in sexual activities during the raids on such bars.
Beginning Sunday, "vulgar" dances with two-piece costumes have been prohibited in the Thamel area as decreed by Inspector Singh.
In fact, he has taken charge of the Sohrakhutte Police Station for only two weeks now. Asked if the new enforcement is a "new-broom-sweeps-cleaner" act or part of any greater plan, he says, "It is only a plan to root out immoral activities, and nothing else."
Posted on: 2004-07-07 (Kantipur)