Documenting Dance in Iran

For over forty years, dance has been prohibited in public spaces in Iran. In the past two decades however, male folk dance troupes have become increasingly visible under the officially approved terminology of ā’inhā-ye namāyeshi (theatrical rituals) or bāzihāye mahalli (local games).

Since 2011, on most of my annual trips to Iran I have been able to visit a Jashnvāre-yeh Aqvām (Folk Festival) or two. Most cities including my native Shiraz organize crafts festivals during Noruz (New Year’s/Spring Equinox) and other holidays that sometimes include folk music and occasionally include folk dance.

The festival we attended for three days in Shiraz in 2011 had dozens of handicraft stands where I met and chatted with participants from many cultures including Bandari, Lori, Torkamani, and Qashqāi cultures. The Qashqāi participants let me know that although a folk dance presentation had been programmed, last minute orders from the Ministry of Culture had cancelled the presentation. We were able to sample regional dishes and visit the craft stands, but it wasn’t until a few years later when folk dance presentations became more common in festivals.

In 2017 I was able to view regional folk dances in a festival in Sari, Mazandaran and in 2018 on a much larger scale in Tabriz. At the Tabriz 2018 festival, I viewed several troupes from the provinces of East Azerbaijan, Ilam, Khorasan Razavi, Kohgiluyeh& Boyer Ahmad, Khuzestan, Mazandaran and Qazvin.

12 years of traveling throughout 14 provinces to document dance in Iran has resulted in a book project based on my observations, field notes, interviews, photographs and videos. Hopefully it will see the light of publication one day.

Many cultures around the world have long histories of documenting their dances. My dream is that the dances of the diverse cultures in Iran will someday have this benefit as well.

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