Dancing Bears of India

Nation: India

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[1892] "Dance, my bear, dance!"
[IMG] Dancing Bear and His Master
[1904] The Usual Performance
[1892] "Dance, my bear, dance!"
"Did you catch the cub?" asked Mac.

"Yes," I replied. "The beaters found it, and C. kept it for a long time and taught it many tricks. You know they are easily tamed."

Eventually, he got tired of it, and gave it to his bearer, who, in turn, sold it to a travelling Caboolee, and my own bearer, Chulle Lall, pointed out to me at Sonepore fair, last year, a dancing bear, which he stoutly affirmed was the same cub that we caught on that memorable day when Billy wrestled the mother and came off the victor.

These Indian sloth bears can be taught almost any tricks. They are very commonly led about by wandering showmen, principally Afghans, in this way, muzzled, from village to village, and go through a variety of antics to the great amusement of the children.

The keeper generally has a long cord affixed to the poor bear's snout, and as he jerks this, he intones in a sing-song nasal drawl -
"Natcho, Bhalo; Natcho! Arree, Natcho! hah!" "Dance, my bear, dance!"

Inglis, J. (1892). The bear and the blacksmith. In Tent life in Tigerland: With which is incorporated sport and work on the Nepaul frontier, being twelve years' sporting reminiscences of a pioneer planter in an Indian frontier district (pp. 91-92). London: Sampson Low, Marston, and Co.
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[IMG] Dancing Bear and His Master


An Indian Juggler with his dancing bear, circa 1920s.
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[1904] The Usual Performance
Still less capacity is shown in the training of animals for street performances. The bear, the monkey, the goat, and sometimes the bull, are led abroad to fairs by men of low caste. The gray bear (Ursus isabellinus) and the common black bear (Ursus labiatus) are most docile creatures, and would repay good teaching. But the bear-leader is a man of few and chance-hap meals, and though starvation and the stick make his creatures gentle enough, he has not the wit to teach them well. Some bear-leaders buckle a leather apron round their bodies and, thus protected, pretend to wrestle with the poor beast; but a paralytic dance on his hind legs, cadenced by jerks on his chain and blows with the staff, is the usual depressing performance. No more complete picture of misery can be imagined than that presented by a dancing bear on a hot day in a town in the Plains, where there is no escape from the pitiless sun.

Kipling, J. L. (1904). Of animal training. In Beast and man in India: A popular sketch of Indian animals in their relations with the people (pp. 297-299). London: Macmillan and Co.
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