The answer to the question ‘What o what is a dance bar?’

As the name suggests, it’s a bar with the added attraction of dance. However, should you, in your innocence, attempt to dance at such a bar, you will be rightly intercepted by two cruel, over-robust bouncers. The dancing, you see, is the sole privilege of whores of all denominations, sizes and perfume-tastes. All you can do is sit around in a state of drunkenness, catch the eye of one of the aforementioned whores and pop her a ten-rupee note every time she coyly makes a brief appearance at your table. You drink, you give money; she dance, she take money. Clear? And yes, if you don’t like songs from Indian movies played really, really, really loud, then get out of this write-up right now, because you will be getting out of a dance bar quicker.

“Where can I find this dance bar you speak of?”

Bombay is the home of the dance bar. After sundown, when the city tones down its chaos a degree or two, restaurants that look like regular restaurants but are actually dance bars open up, promptly and with no drama. Have the nearest taxi deliver you to the nearest dance bar. You will find yourself outside a nondescript building in a nondescript neighbourhood feeling wholly nondescript yourself. At this point in proceedings, pause briefly and check for one thing.

You should be gargantuanally gutter-drunk before you enter.

A dance bar is distilled, industrial-strength sleaze. A non-drunk brain will simply not cope with the bad taste in décor, music, lighting and women. So, with the help of a large quantity of alcohol, numb your brain, stamp on it, bash it against hard edges, murder it and only then present it with your chosen dance bar, preferably after midnight. It will still cringe but ignore it completely from hence on, you won’t need it anymore.

Also, know this.

You could indulge in dance bars by yourself but it’s not advisable. These places attract the worst kind, from small-time gangsters to crabby businessmen to flesh-crazy alcoholics and there’s no telling what madness spews forth your way, faultless though you may be. There is relative safety in numbers here, plus you and your mates can split the ridiculous price of everything here - A rum-n-cola elsewhere: Sixty rupees; In here: Three hundred bucks. Why waste money here then? After 1:00 am, dance bars are the only places where you can also waste brain-cells in Bombay; regular bars shut down by then. You will be escorted to a free table by a waiter who’ll be personally responsible for further inebriation. Order what you must, lean back, cackle mischievously and take a good look around.

The whores are escapees from India’s poverty, selling their bodies for money that fills the pockets of their families back in villages, of the dance bar owners and finally their own. A beautiful and popular whore in a dance bar can make thousands of rupees every night; all she need do is swing her hips to the music, whisper into the ears of lusting men and wink at further pleasures on some other night, maybe. The dance bar girls, as they are referred to, are dressed in traditional Indian sarees and other ethnic wear, but showing ample amounts of cleavage, back and belly. In the repressed and largely feudal society of most of India, a dance bar is a rare thing: a place where a beautiful, buxom young woman looks invitingly at some sad frustrated middle-aged man and returns the lasciviousness with equal fervor. It’s easy to see why the stream of ten-rupee notes from sweaty hand to henna-painted hand never stops.

However, by now, your brain should have been pummeled into senselessness and will thankfully be dead to such depressing thoughts on sexual exploitation, social inequity and the like. Things are fucked up here but so are you, right? Your mind should be roaring with just one thought now: Where the fuck is that waiter and that drink? Here he comes now, glasses tinkling. Drink long and hard, good knight of debauchery. The night begins in earnest.

The main course.

Most dance bars have a simple, basic design. There’s a largish dance-floor right in the middle where all the dance bar girls sway to the music. Around this central area are arranged the tables, weaving in and out of which are the waiters, who also act as conduits between dance-floor and table. On any given night, expect to find up to twenty young, cheaply made-up girls packed onto that floor. All in all, a dance bar looks like an LSD trip gone bad. There are mirrors on every flat surface, there are coloured, revolving strobe lights, the girls are in over-sequined garb and to push things hurtling over the aesthetic edge, there are disco balls splashing little squares of light all around. Alcohol was invented for times like these. Your fellow patrons are a disparate lot, united in their desperation to add some colour and spice into their essentially deadened lives. But it’s these frequent customers who keep the dance bars running, who throw their money (literally), out of their lives and onto the dance-floor, as the waiters quickly collect the notes as business revenue.

Inside of the first five minutes of you entering, you will realize that being very drunk won’t save you from feeling very stupid if you don’t join the dance bar game. Here is how it’s played then.

Catch her eye: As a new customer, the girls are sizing you up just as you are them. If you look like someone with cash to spare, four or five of these girls will vie for your exclusive attention. Let the one you prefer know it with a long, hard stare which she shall return with a long, hard stare of her own. Don’t be enigmatic; smile and flash a ten rupee note. She will smile back and saunter over to your side.

What to say: Small talk. Flirty talk. Silly talk. Giggly talk. Throw in a regular supply of ten-rupee notes and you’ve got yourself a very attentive dance bar girl.

Can’t speak Hindi? If you can’t speak Hindi, then just make cooing sounds or sweet-sounding gibberish. It’s not like she wants to listen to you and learn which is your mum’s favourite porridge, anyway. She wants your money, give her some at regular intervals and you can then make hedgehog mating calls into her ear, for all she cares.

Can she be touched? That depends, dear friend, entirely on that lovely lady. Most dance bar girls won’t tolerate anything from a newcomer. But if she sees you as a rich source of more money, she might let you hold her hand or her waist as a lure for greater action. Alternatively, if she wants more money out of you, she might act coy this first night there and make you spend more on her on a subsequent visit before she acts familiar. Either way, keep the notes rolling to open up the possibilities.

Any chance of some boob-action here? Zero. A dance bar will not permit it. If it’s boobs you want to see, seek out other institutions around Bombay that cater to your tastes. But that is beyond the scope of this write-up; good luck though on your endeavour.

How the night ends is up to you.

Once the high of all that booze comes down, you and your mates can stagger out, drunk and partially deaf from the loud music and leave it at that. Remember, for most westernized and well-to-do males in Bombay, a visit to a dance bar is a rite of passage only, like smoking pot in college. It’s indulged in a few times in the flush of youth and it’s out of the system forever. They see a dance bar for what it is: a garish place packed with whores and sad old men, a place to get drunk and lech at shady women but nothing more. A visit to a dance bar is merely an occasional and brief trip into lightweight debauchery. On the other hand, you can pay that willing dance bar girl to have sex with you in a dingy hotel room nearby. Waking up the next day with a clear conscience or a guilty feeling is also another choice you make.

Either way, your night at a dance bar will have now come to an end. It will have been a bitter-sweet experience, a sordid phenomenon unique to Bombay. Within its flashy mirrors and multi-coloured walls lie a set of dreams, smiles, manners and lives completely and utterly different from your own; a kaleidoscopic underbelly that may just give you a new perspective on your own way of life.

If you happen to be in India, make sure to schedule in a night at a Bombay dance bar. You can whoop it up in a manner like nowhere else on Earth. And if you are the contemplative sort, remember - sometimes, finding out your true self might start with looking in the wrongest of places.

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