They may have left their stints as bar dancers in the city of dreams a decade ago, but Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling, has thrilled the women who have since moved to Tamil Nadu and sought allied professions. “It was the best and most respectable profession I held during my time in the prostitution-bar dancing-pimping industry,” explains Priya Babu, a transgender who has turned a social activist in recent times.
Priya, who moved to Chennai in 2002, recalls how the bar owners and patrons in Maharashtra were surprisingly ‘decent’ with the dancers, despite being heavily drunk.
“Though we were transgenders, the girls who were very pretty, treated us just the same. We would go to work at 6 pm, get dressed in shiny saris or ghagra-cholies and start dancing at 8 pm, until about 2 am in the morning. If the customers liked our dance they would throw ‘tips’ on us,” she adds.
What was truly gratifying for her, was that beyond tucking the notes into their waist, the bar managers ensured that they were treated “reasonably well”. Exuding confidence, Priya says that if ever there was a decent way to make a living when you don’t have an education and can’t find work - it was bar dancing in Maharashtra. “A lot of those girls (dancers) left the state after the government cracked down on bars in 2005 and some of them came here and turned towards prostitution. I do not know if they will be able to return now,” she says somberly.
It isn’t just the women who danced in Mumbai’s bars who have fond memories of their ‘dirty dancing’ days - even women who worked in Pondicherry’s bars, dancing anything from cabaret to kuthu - say that those were their wonder years. “My family was struggling in 2002, which is why I started working in the cine industry as a background dancer. I was young then,” says Divya*, now a mother of two. An assistant director approached her and after complimenting her dancing skills asked her if she was willing to do ‘private’ dancing. “I was hesitant because I initially thought it was prostitution, but they assured me it was only dancing and so I agreed,” she adds. After her first ‘dance party’, for which she was driven from Chennai to Pondy, she quite liked the treatment and became a regular for the next four years. “I would dance cabaret, bhangra, Malayalam and Kannada hits - all depending on the clients. Except for a few times when they kissed our hands or legs, no one tried to force us to sleep with them,” she asserts.