Me, My Awkward Dance Moves, and Mumbai Nightlife
I’ll start at the beginning. All of the clothes I brought with me to spend a year in Mumbai fit easily into a hiking backpack and fall into the following three categories: underwear, workout clothes, and ratty t-shirts that I stole from unknowing friends and relatives. Plus one pair of jeans. I was warned not to bring anything I care about because it would get ruined from abrasive hand-washing and monsoon messiness. Everything I wear to work and pretty much everyday–kurtas (long tunics), salwars (loose cotton pants), and dupattas (scarves to cover your chest)–I’ve bought since arriving in India.
My wardrobe is about 500 kilometers (there’s my new appreciation for the metric system) away from “chic.”
Unfortunately, that wardrobe isn’t at all suited for going out. When I’m heading out to meet friends at a club or bar, I end up choosing between one of three semi-ugly shirts that are remnants of my early college wardrobe. And I think we all wish we could forget a little bit about our freshman year of college, don’t we? My wardrobe is about 500 kilometers (there’s my new appreciation for the metric system) away from “chic.” The purchase of that plain pink shirt in the picture, eight months into my time here, was a huge step for me.
There are nights when I’ve looked around and thought to myself, “Dear God. Everyone here looks like they could be models… or Bollywood actresses.” And they probably are. I’m all about self-love and appreciation, but I’ll admit that it’s a little discouraging to be surrounded by gorgeous six-foot Indian women in couture clothing while I’m wearing over-stretched jeans and a sleep shirt that I’m trying to pull off as a “cute-baggy-trendy” tank top. But it’s alright because my great personality compensates for my fashion freakishness… right? (The overuse of ellipses is super popular here………)
The first few times I went to clubs or bars with dancing, I immediately noticed that most people weren’t really touching. There was a whole lot of what I think of as “bar mitzvah” style dancing going on, with everyone dancing in a circle and very little physical contact. I immediately became aware of my own dance style. Was I dancing too provocatively and calling attention to myself? I’m not a pop-lock-and-drop-it kind of girl (but props to everyone who is), but I do like to let loose when I dance and I was suddenly left wondering if I had crossed some cultural boundary. At this point, I had already begun to experience how gender interactions were usually quite different in India than what I was used to; a simple smile or a friendly conversation on my part could be taken by a man to mean much more and quickly lead to an uncomfortable or even dangerous situation.
At this point, I had already begun to experience how gender interactions were usually quite different in India than what I was used to
I eventually realized there wasn’t much cause for worry and that I don’t need to be as self-conscious about immodesty when at these types of places as elsewhere in the city. That, I think, is what was and still is so strange to me. It really feels like there are two parallel worlds in Mumbai, and that some of the city’s tiny elite operate in a world completely separate from the rest of the city. I spend 97% of my time in one reality and then 3% in the club-going, high-heels-wearing reality (I clearly don’t own high heels). Especially at the nicer bars and clubs, I feel an enormous disconnect between my everyday life here and those nights out, and subsequently a real discomfort being at those types of places.
That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy going out here, because I definitely do. There are lots of fun and relatively relaxed bars and clubs that will play music ranging from house to oldies to Bollywood. When one club started playing Backstreet Boys (some sort of theme night maybe?), I was really wishing that I could share the moment with someone else whose American tween years were defined by boy bands, jean jackets, and weird AOL screen names. Instead I settled for screaming the lyrics and accompanying my singing with word-matching dance moves.
I try to imitate other people, but mostly I just embrace my awkward white girl dance moves and shake my shoulders a lot.
You know, like when you put your hands to your heart for the word “love?” Yeah, that kind of dancing, circa 10-year-old dance parties in friends’ basements. This definitely scared/amused my fellow dancers, but they clearly just didn’t understand the magic of the moment. Of course, Bollywood music is the absolute best because everyone goes crazy and busts out their awesome dance moves. I try to imitate other people, but mostly I just embrace my awkward white girl dance moves and shake my shoulders a lot.
Work it, awkward foreign girl. Work it.
It’s funny–in a city where things are open late and people often don’t eat dinner until midnight, bars and clubs get shut down pretty early. There was one night where we were dancing at a club until it closed at 1:30 am, hanging out at a friend’s place until 4:30 am, and then went and got a full meal at 5:00 am. I’m not just talking about late night greasy snacking food, I’m talking about a meal complete with appetizers and many main courses. By 6:00 am, I was licking my fingers clean as the sun came up.
That’s my kind of night out.
Me, My Awkward Dance Moves, and Mumbai Nightlife