Gender And Dance In Modern Iran Biopolitics On Stage – The following is a guest post written by Maya Reus, MA student in Near and Middle Eastern Studies at SOAS, University of London. Her research focuses on the social history and visual culture of Iran and Turkey. Follow @_marca_pola.
Tehran, 1946. Three women on stage in a public theater. In this one, Haideh and Wilma are dressed in fantastic versions of folk costumes that reflect the colors of the desert, ready to perform a dance called the Caravan.
Gender And Dance In Modern Iran Biopolitics On Stage
It was a brave undertaking: never before had women from wealthy families danced on a public stage in Iran. The audience was taken on a visual journey where the three women performed a mystical dance combining improvisation, modern ballet and folk dance. Inspiration for the dance was taken from a poem by Saadi, one of the most beloved poets in the Persian canon:
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ي سربان هنہ رو كآرام جانم میرود
A caravan moves slowly, because the peace of my soul goes, The heart that was mine before, goes with the charmer of hearts.
در بردان جان از بدن گویند هر کیشتن کهتن
White people have never agreed with the separation of the soul from the body. How did I see my soul with my own eyes?
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In this one, Haideh and Wilma in caravan outfits on their first trip to Abadan. Source: Haideh Ahmadzadeh, “My life as a Persian dancer”.
The Caravan marks the beginning of the Studio for the Revival of Classical Art in Iran, a dance company that has been very successful in embodying the modernist idea of Iran as an ancient nation. Given the studio’s focus on the Iranian nation, it was curious that the dance company was born by the American Nilla Cram Cook, cultural attaché at the US Embassy in Iran and an orientalist scholar in both senses of the word. As Nesta, one of the dancers, told in her memoir “The Dance of the Rose and the Nightingale”, Nila strove for the dances performed by the group to be included in Iranian history and poetry. festival celebration of iran.”great past.”
The project was also heavily gendered in its depiction of Iran as a nation: while for centuries public dance was mostly associated with young men, the troupe emphasized that Iran has a modern dance style in which women are at the center of attention. . In doing so, the Studio for the Revival of Classical Art in Iran presented a marked change from the previous state of dance in Iran, which its members saw as degenerate and vile rather than an art form. In Nesta’s words, they decided to “restore” dance to the “stage” of Iran. In this article, I explore how the studio invented an Iranian dance style that was thoroughly modern yet deeply rooted in the past. was presented, in the process of reinventing tradition and reimagining dance culture in modern Iran.
Although she has presented her work as a “renaissance” of Iranian dance, dance performance has always flourished in Iran, past and present. Dancers were often organized through the motreb organizational unit, a troupe that might include musicians, dancers, acrobats, and actors. During the Qajar era (1789-1925), many Motreb dancers were “boy dancers” who performed in royal and notable homes and in public places such as cafes and in the streets.
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Historian Afsaneh Najmabadi argued that Iran at the time could be defined as a “homosocial” society where, at least in urban centers, women socialized with women and men with men, and where public space was dominated by men. This has also carried over into the dance world. Dancing boys were known for their acrobatic skills as well as their good looks, including features often associated with femininity such as clothing and makeup. In the private sphere, women have performed for women, and there are limited reports of women performing for men. The contributions and acrobatic skills of dancers and performers should not be underestimated, as the many Qajar-era images of women in spectacular balancing positions attest.
These types of dances probably seem to have continued into the Pahlavi era (1925-1979). In the 1940s, another type of dance seems to have become popular in Iran; in the cafe district of central Tehran, women also danced for men in what is called the “Cabaret” style, a more westernized dance form that was increasingly associated with disreputable street pits like Lalehzar or the red , Shahr-. it is not.
Though beloved by the audiences they performed for, the status of Motrebi musicians and dancers has likely been ambiguous throughout history. Dance historian Anthony Shay coined the term “choreophobia” to characterize dubious attitudes toward dancers. He says one of the reasons for this was that the domains of the sex and entertainment industries overlap, both being considered part of the “lower womb” of society. Some Islamic scholars considered dancing inappropriate, in part because of this association, but also because it would escape religion (although this view is believed to have been no different before the advent of Islam). People who were active professionally were sometimes considered “fringe figures” and were often non-Muslims, nominally Muslims, or from the lower strata of society including Kowli communities (sometimes referred to as “g*psies” in English).
During the Pahlavi dynasty (1925–1979), many modernists considered motreb and cabaret dancing to be overtly sexual and morally inappropriate for a modern Iranian nation, in part because of European criticism of Iran (and the wider Middle East) as a highly sexualized nation and morally scandalous region. Dancing boys, in particular, came to be seen as hypersexualized and effeminate, reflecting conservative European gender and sexuality norms, which increasingly saw the display of male beauty in public as inappropriate and which saw homosexuality as a disease that should be deleted. These ideas were taken up by many Iranian intellectuals, who saw homosocial practices as embarrassing relics of a past that did not adequately conform to European gender norms, which they saw as universal and modern.
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So it’s no surprise that Nila, the American in charge of the Studio for the Revival of Classical Arts in Iran, has ensured that her dance company moves away from motreb-style dancing and instead presents Iran in a nationalist, focused way. for trends. and western norms of public heterosexuality. Both Nesta Ramazani and Haideh Ahmadzadeh recounted their journey as studio dancers in their memoirs, and their stories provide insight into this strategy.
The two women, along with their friend Wilma Protiva, were students of Mrs. Cornelli, a dance teacher who immigrated from Russia and brought classical ballet skills to Iran. The women themselves also had international backgrounds: Nesta’s mother was English, Haideh’s parents had also emigrated from Russia, and Wilma was the daughter of Czech immigrants. All were educated in international schools. Later, more women joined the dance group, some of which were recorded in the countries they visited. Despite this transnational background, they invoked symbols of Iranian nationalism in their dance performances. They hoped that with these symbols they would advance and overcome public rejection of the presence of women on stage and revolutionize gender norms and respectability around dance and performance more broadly.
To conform to Western norms of public heterosexuality, the group’s performances would be heterosocial rather than homosocial, and would focus on women performing for mixed audiences while marginalizing male performance. Second, their performances would mirror and contribute to a range of symbols and narratives popularized and promoted by both Iranian state-sponsored intellectuals and Western Orientalists as part of Pahlavi-era nationalism.
Haideh Ahmadzadeh depicts a golden statue of an ancient goddess in “The Prayer of Darius”. Source: Ahmadzadeh, “My life as a Persian dancer.”
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This brand of nationalism revolved around various landmarks that represented Iran as “presentable” to the West: Iran’s glorious pre-Islamic past with its Achaemenid and Sassanid empires and ruins, the classical Persian poetry that appeared in the first half of the second bloomed. . millennium CE and what has been considered “genuine popular culture” largely plays outside of Iran’s more recent history, especially its Islamic aspects. Furthermore, as Haideh recounts in his memoirs, the troupe’s reputation benefited from the support of the royal family, as well as the fact that all the women came from “good families”, that is, women from the urban elite.
Iran’s pre-Islamic past has been viewed in many ways. The two great empires of the Achaemenids (550-330 BC. For example, Nesta represents a Sasanian princess in the Dance of Love, for which
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