This is not Bollywood studio. This is not live show of Madonna. This is the downtown Yangon, in the street of Pansoedan. One lady was dancing with a lively tune. Around her were a number of onlookers, some smiling, some laughing, a few gazing at her with curiosity. However, she seemed to ignore all of them and keep on dancing with her tune.
Sweats were flowing down like rain water on her face, over a thick layer of make up. However, she her hands and feet were moving non-stop. She was wearing old, worn out, white T shirt and pant, and put a pair of sun glasses over her head. Beside her was a black cassette player and a white plastic sign board with “May Rosy Myanmar dance – 500 kyat per song” written on it. Song coming out from the cassette player was a popular Bollywood Indian song. In fact, she was a dancer who entertained the customers at 500 kyat a song.
In a society like Myanmar where people are reluctant to do anything in public, even men are afraid to do such kind of thing in Myanmar. However, for her, she seemed no to show any reluctance or shyness in front of all those people.
Why she dance like this? What kind of thing forced her to work as a public dancer like this? Why she chose this kind of occupation?
May Hninsi (or Miss Rosy in English) is a 46 year old lady who was abandoned by her parents shortly after birth and became an orphan since then. She was adopted by a very poor family. Her adopted family was so poor that she could not go to school. She wanted to support her foster parents and earn her living by dancing in the streets since she was 10 year old. It is difficult to find a job for an uneducated person like her so she chose dancing as her living.
She has been dancing for her living on the streets like this since she was 10 year old, until now when she becomes 46. She now has two children. However, she is still dancing, as she cannot find any other job. Long standing economic hardships of the country forced her to continue as a street dancer.
When her husband became ill, she had to take the place of her husband, finding money for the family as well as for her husband’s medical expenses. Her children are already grown up now and had their own families. Although she does not need to take care of her children now, she still had to continue dancing as she does not have any other earning. Due to years of hardship, her health is starting to deteriorate.
Earning a living as a street dancer is not a very easy job in Myanmar. For those who are struggling for their living, she dances with Indian and Myanmar songs. They paid 500 kyat per song as well as some tips. Every morning at 10 AM, she had to walk from a suburb of Yangon where she lives to downtown Yangon, looking for customers who would like to see her dance. If she take a bus to downtown, it would be difficult for her to meet the customers, so she has to walk everyday to downtown under the burning sun.
Every day she goes to work, she brings a white plastic sign board with “May Hninsi Myanmar dance – 500 kyat a song” written down on it, and an old Chinese made “National” cassette player, which is an orchestra for her to be able to dance and earn a living. From this little orchestra come famous modern Burmese pop songs like “Shake your butt” by “Sai Sai Khan Hlaing as well as famous Indian Bollywood songs. For her, this is the most important co-worker in her job.
6 PM is the usual time she comes back from work. Sometimes if she cannot earn enough, it might be until 7 PM. Because her husband knows she does not do anything illegal or unethical, he never complains or say anything to her when she comes back late in the evening.
Her income is usually around 2,000 kyat up to 8,000 kyat a day (US$ 1.8 to 7 per day). However, this is not the net profit. She has to spend 1,500 kyat a day for batteries to play her cassette player. Sometimes when she gets ill and cannot go to work, she has to go and buy rice and food in credit from the shop in her street.
So who taught her to dance like this? Her teachers are the video halls in her street. Whenever there are Indian Bollywood movies or Yazar Ne Win’s movies (a Burmese comedian who dances a very funny and weird dance) shown in any of the video halls, she goes and watches from the front row seat, observing how the actors and actresses dance. Once she comes back to her rental house (which actually is more a hut than a house) she put mirrors in front and around and practice dancing like the movie stars.
Sometimes, she was disturbed by the men while she was performing her dance. Many a times, she was mistaken as a gay dancer (in Myanmar, many gays earn their living as either street dancers or hair dressers) and was teased a lot. Most of the time, she politely face these insults. However, sometimes it ended up in a boxing fight with men who disturb and insult her. She had to face them bravely. If she does not face them toughly like this, she said, she might be mistaken as a street walker or prostitute.
In Myanmar, famous singers are hired to entertain wedding guests in weddings of rich people. She is also hired several times. However, it is not the weddings of rich and affluent people. It is the weddings of poor people like flea market vendors and trishaw paddlers. These weddings are poor men’s weddings and cannot hire famous singers. She is hired to entertain the guests instead.
“At poor people’s weddings, food is not good. Wedding venue is also poor and mediocre. Making them laugh is the only way to entertain in poor men’s wedding. This is the best part of my work”, said she.
Although she never learned dancing from a teacher, she has to work as a dance teacher sometimes. Her students are those young girls who work as dancers in night clubs and karaoke lounges. She usually teaches them the kind of dances that emphasize the breasts and hips movement.
Since 10 years old until now when she becomes 46, she has been dancing as a street dancer, from Taungoo, Pago (Pegu) to Yangon (Rangoon). Although she wants to take a rest now, she still has to continue the same occupation, forced by the economic conditions.
“When I was young, my dream was to retire in a small lovely house with my two children. Now, it is a very farfetched dream which can never be reached”, said she, with tear in her eyes.
“I want to be with my two children during the last years of my life. I want to leave a small lovely house for them when I died. This is a very far dream for me. However, as a mother, I really want to give them a better life.”