Backstreet ballrooms tiptoe around the law

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 March, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 March, 2003, 12:00am

It is 4.18pm on Monday afternoon. A dance restaurant, Causeway Bay.

Behind the simple entrance, swirling and dipping with sartorial elegance are dozens of couples moving across a polished floor in synchronised tandem.

But first you have to get in. Entrance is restricted to only a privileged few.

This is the black market of ballroom dancing. Many have taken to calling it the 'dirty world of dance'.

And this realm belongs mostly to an exclusive set, wealthy Hong Kong high-society ladies and their dancing instructors.

The men are slim, poised, sophisticated. Hair slicked back, chest out, belly tucked, toes pointed.

The ladies are similarly elegant. Many are dressed in exquisite sequinned outfits. They wear a mask of practised fashion and wealth.

This venue is one of more than a dozen dance restaurants across the city catering to the all-consuming appetite of Hongkongers for the style and sensation of ballroom dancing.

And in the classic scenario of supply and demand, foreign dance instructors from mainland China and Europe - most who do not have a work permit - are flocking to fill the needs of local women.

Not everyone here is a player on the black market.

But dance studio owners say there are now so many they are at risk of financial ruin as the illegal instructors ply their seductive trade with the rich 'tai-tais'.

Studio owners say a series of complaints have been made to authorities. An investigation has been launched. Undercover immigration officials with hidden video cameras now can be found among the ranks of learners, dance enthusiasts, illegal instructors and catering staff, say sources.

Under the spotlight are claims that some dancing instructors are also moonlighting as escorts for the well-heeled high society set, earning up to $1,500 per hour.

'They go out shopping, they go for Chinese tea, they go for dim sum, they have private dance lessons, and they socialise,' said an inside source.

'They are making the dance business look dirty,' said another.