Kandy Dances and Meeting the ‘Fire Eater’

Did we get got? Were we had? Was it a genuine moment? Was it a scam? Or will we never know?

I had read about the Kandy dances when I was researching the trip to Sri Lanka and it seemed that watching them was simply the thing to do in Kandy.

We had enjoyed the different local dance shows in other countries, such as the Bali dances in Ubud, the water puppet show in Vietnam and the Kabuki theatre in Tokyo (I’ll have to tell you about that sometime…).

So we had high hopes for these famous Kandy dances.

If you can’t be bothered reading my story about meeting one of the stars of the show on our way to the venue and you just want to know whether it’s worth paying to watch the Kandy dances, read no further: It’s not. The Kandy dances are pretty shit.

Anyway, at this point, we were looking forward to it…

Kandy Dances 2016

Colourful costumes at the Kandy dances

The Kandyan Cultural Show

The show, known as the Kandyan Cultural Show, consists of different dances and dramatic acts displaying dance and entertainment from different parts of Sri Lanka. The Kandy dances are performed every evening to full houses at three different venues in Kandy (click for info and location):

Getting to YMBA from our guesthouse

By the time we had finally got checked in at our guesthouse in Kandy, after sitting for a long time on a bus and getting lost in a tuk tuk, it was 4pm. Knowing the Kandy dances started at around 5-5.30pm we quickly showered and changed. We left our guesthouse and set off to walk to the YMBA, the nearest venue to us where they held the Kandy dances.

We were really hurrying around Kandy Lake as it was already getting on for 5pm (the show was starting at 5.30pm but we didn’t know that at the time) and we weren’t very sure about where we were going.

The path by the lake had a steady flow of people walking in each direction and I had just stepped behind Toni so we could pass in single file by an old man who was standing in the path contemplating the lake and the view of the Temple of the Tooth beyond.

As Toni was passing the man, he turned and fell into step with Toni, saying at the same time how much he enjoys this view and something about the religious celebrations that were to be held the following day for the Poya Day full moon.

Meeting the Kandy Dances fire eater

The old man kept talking to Toni, forcing him to slow down to his walking pace and forcing me to stay behind them both as there was only space for two abreast on the path.

As I was getting increasingly exasperated with Toni for dawdling and chatting when we were supposed to be in a rush, the man was asking Toni the usual Sri Lankan questions:

“Where are you from?”
“Oh Barcelona!”
“Yes,” followed by polite laugh.

It’s easier to just say yes to the Barcelona question than to try to explain that there are other places in Spain. Like when I say I’m British and people automatically assume London.

I tuned out while they chatted about football and which of Barça’s players was the old man’s favourite (I think he said Messi, if you care).  But my ears did prick up again when the man said he was on his way to the Kandy dances.

What a coincidence!

We were on our way to the Kandy dances and we didn’t know where we were going. We thought we were running late. I guess not, as this man was clearly in no rush.

He had now stopped completely and was pointing across the lake at the Temple of the Tooth and was telling us which dignitaries from which countries would be visiting the next day.

The next day was Poya Day and you can read about my Poya Day experiences in Kandy here.

Kandy Dances 2016

Sri Lankan plate spinning, stick eating and drum banging performance

He started walking again, repeating that he was on his way to the Kandy dances. After a little more chat it transcribed that he was in the Kandy dances!

“Yes,” he said. “I’m a fire eater. I am on at the end and I am part of the fire walking and fire eating show.”

Great. We couldn’t believe our luck. Because we had wanted to see a show with fire walkers at the end, as it seems that not all the venues do it.

This was getting better.

The man continued: “Yes, I’ve been in the show for 28 years. I have two grandchildren and they come to watch me sometimes.”

Then he stopped and opened his mouth and pointed inside, showing us what 28 years of fire eating had done to his mouth. We peered inside politely, not sure what we were looking at. It looked like a normal old man’s mouth to us, with about half the teeth missing.

He started walking again. “Anyway, I’m on my way now to the show.”
“That’s where we are going,” we said.
“Oh, well then come with me, I’ll show you where it is. I’ll get you a good seat.”

He picked up the pace. Now he was on a mission. We were ecstatic with our good luck. What are the chances?

kandy dances

Acrobatics and whirlwind colours at Kandy dances

Kandy dances at the YMBA

When we reached the YMBA, our new friend the fire eater pushed right past the queue, through the entrance and to the ticket desk, beckoning us to come with him. The hall was already more than half full and, at first glance, it seemed that all the good seats were taken.

“1,000rs each,” he told us after saying something to the man behind the desk in Sinhalese.

That seemed a bit steep; I was expecting to pay about 500rs (3€) each. Still, we were here now so we stumped up the cash and were given our tickets. Sure enough, the price printed on each ticket was 1,000rs.


Our friend then took us right to the front of the hall to a bank of seats that was cordoned off by a rope. He lifted the rope for us to duck under and motioned for us to take the second row. They were indeed great seats.

Then we shook hands and said how nice it was to meet each other. He told us to enjoy the show, to take all the photos we wanted and to look out for him in the last act, eating fire.

Toni and I sat down, bought some water off the drinks seller and marvelled at our good luck.

Kandy Dances: The Show

The show, which lasted around 50 minutes, was entertaining and lively. There were some fantastic costumes and a nice acrobatic display from the young men. That said, in parts it was like watching a school play, where the performers would catch each other’s eye and giggle. It was the sort of thing that an indulgent parent would be proud of if her child was in it.

In other words, it was shit. It was definitely not worth 1,000rs.

Kandy Dances 2016

Something a proud mum would love

After the part performed on stage, the audience members all trooped outside and congregated around the flaming coals. (I always thought they walk on coals that were glowing, not actually blazing with flames).

The space for the fire show was very small with far too many people packed in. It was impossible to get any sort of view of what was going on. You were lucky if you caught even a glimpse.

The same young men that had done somersaults onstage were the ones that came out to take on the fire. They played to the crowd, as those that could see oohed and aahed. And after just a few minutes it was all over and we found ourselves walking back down the steps and out into the balmy and busy night.


Taken for a Kandyan dance

It wasn’t until later when we were tucking into a delicious curry at the Sri Ramya Restaurant when I suddenly said to Toni: “The old guy wasn’t in the fire show.”

Realisation dawned on us very slowly. All the different possible reasons for our fire-eating friend not to be in the show went through our minds.

We finally came to the only possible conclusion: we’d been duped. He was never supposed to be in the Kandy dances. The guy was a tout. We’d been hooked, lined and sinkered. And he had collected a nice commission off our ticket.

As I said to Toni; they probably know him at the theatre. He probably always gets those seats.

We were impressed. We were amused. We replayed the whole scenario with us thinking what a lucky coincidence we’d met a performer on our way to see the Kandy dances. We thought about how we’d believed we were like some kind of VIPs. Not to mention the fact that we’d bought the whole story about him being a fire eater. Oh, and how we’d peered inside his mouth – no wonder we hadn’t seen anything out of the ordinary!

We were howling with laughter by the end of it.

What do you think? Were we scammed? If so, how did he know where we were going when he met us by Kandy Lake? Lucky guess? Or had our guesthouse owner given him a call and described us to him?

Filed Under: asiafeaturedSri LankaSri Lanka Hill Country


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