Grooming classes lure many as nation opens up

Students taking a hairstyling class at Style Plus H personal grooming school in Yangon. Such finishing schools attract students dreaming of success and celebrity in a fast-urbanising society.
Students taking a hairstyling class at Style Plus H personal grooming school in Yangon. Such finishing schools attract students dreaming of success and celebrity in a fast-urbanising society.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

YANGON • Knees pressed together and sitting bolt upright, Myanmar students watch a demonstration on personal grooming, the latest batch at a Yangon finishing school chasing dreams of celebrity and success.

A small but rapidly growing middle class in the once-cloistered nation is seizing the chance to master Western manners after decades of military rule ended in 2011.

For the girls studying etiquette inside a high-rise flat in north-west Yangon, the lure is mostly a chance to enter beauty pageants, banned under the former junta.

"We have to know how to walk properly, about posture and how to fold our legs (when sitting) so they don't look short," Ms Su Myat Nilar, an aspiring actress, said.

She is one of the latest to join Style Plus H, a personal grooming school launched when a quasi-civilian government came to power.

It targets the rush of young people clamouring for a foot in the pageant, modelling or acting industries as global pop culture takes grip in the nation.

Classes have blossomed since 2013, when Myanmar fielded its first Miss Universe contestant in over 50 years.

But this small school is also catering to aspirational parents eager to give their children the best chance in a fast-urbanising society.

"Now Myanmar is booming," said founder Hla Nu Tun after training her class of 10 in wardrobe management and lift etiquette, among other things.

As Myanmar opens its economy to foreign firms, demand is surging for nationals with the language and skills to ease their entry. It is providing a niche for personality development schools such as US brand John Robert Powers, which opened its first branch in Yangon in March.

Businesses have been among the first to sign up as firms try to better cater to the record numbers of foreign tourists to the country.

Ms Tin Moe Lwin says the opening economy has led to a surge in demand for Western-style manners but with a local twist.

Her Talents & Models Agency is currently training 600 nurses in communication skills for a new Yangon private hospital.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2015, with the headline 'Grooming classes lure many as nation opens up'. Print Edition | Subscribe