Persian Dance; the Most Beautiful Form of Art
What is Dance?
Dance is a series of body movements in a rhythmic way to a piece of music. The purpose of dancing is usually expressing a particular emotion for example happiness. Dance is categorized by its choreography, repertoire of movements or its historical period or place of origin. First archeological proof of dance comes from the 9 thousand year old cave paintings in India. One of the earliest uses of structured dance was introduced in religious ceremonies that told the stories of ancient myths and gods
Dance (Raghs) has been a big part of Persian culture and identity for many years. Dancing had a significant role in religious rituals specifically in the faith of Zoroastrianism.
At the time of Persian Empire and during Achaemenids, Parthians and Sassanids dynasties, dancing was a well-developed and respected art form. Ritual dance was adapted into religious and other type of ceremonies in the Persian Emperor’s court. These dances incorporated high aesthetic and cultural values.
Dance types in Iran differ massively based on culture differences and areas.
And since Iran consists of many ethnicities, one can find a large variation of dance types ranging from folk dances to complicated dance routines.
However, researches show that the oldest known Persian dance is a rhythmic routine that depicts the worship of Mithra. This type of Persian dance was related to Mithrakana or Mehrgan ceremonies. In these ceremonies even the Persian Emperors did dance to the music and participated in worshiping.
The purpose of this dance was believed to be restoring vigour and energy in one’s life, and the dance included slaughtering a bull as sacrifice.
After the brief periods in which Iran was seized by different powers such as the Arabs or the Greeks, the dance lineage was a little bit lost due to political unbalance and insecurity.
In that time, the Persian females were forced into sexual labour and slavery by the new oppressors that ruled over Iran.
These females were forced into performing erotic and sensual dances for the rulers. This situation went on for a time until Islam took over and banned dance entirely.
Since this prohibition was not taken very seriously from time to time, dance still lived on in the Persian culture.
But the finality of it came with the Islamic Revolution of the year 1979, in which dance was fully prohibited due to the fact that sometimes it required mixing the two sexes together for routines.
One of the most important dance companies in Iran, “The Iranian National Ballet Company”, was forced to disperse due to this prohibition.
The Iranian National Ballet Company was the best and the most respected of all ballet companies in the Middle East. It became most known among companies of Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Egypt and other Middle Eastern and Central Asian companies. Membership of the company became popular and attractive among talented dancers of Europe and the United States. Many foreign ballet stars and prima ballerinas, for instance from the Bolshoi Ballet, were invited to dance at the premieres.
The main reason for the banning of dance was said to be that in accordance with the Cultural Revolution, dancing was thought of as a sin and a corruption of the soul.
Traditional Persian Dance
Persian traditional or classical dance was performed base on the traditional Persian modal music, Dastgah (system). The movements demonstrated flexibility, grace, and dominance of the upper body moves and also included facial expressions. The dance is nonsexual and feminine and shows a sense of pride. Traditional Persian dance usually uses Persian myth, literary and poetry with historical themes.
Persian Dance in 1960s
Robert de Warren, a British ballet dancer and director was invited by the Ministry of Culture in the 1960’s to train Persian dancers in Ballet and to invite foreign Ballet dancers to perform in Ballet productions. Warren was intrigued by Persian native dancers and eventually decided to interpret Persian dance and created choreography in that style. He also recorded folk dances of various regions. Unfortunately these precious recordings were destroyed during the Islamic revolution of Iran. After revolution he had to leave Iran.
Persian Dance Types
To simplify, Iran has four different fields of dance:
These routines are basically remakes of the dances that came to existence in the reign of the Safavid and Qajar dynasties.
These court dances were mostly improvised.
The form is very tender, graceful and elegant and it consists of many small subtle movements throughout the body such as the wrist circles or arm circles.
War dances and Combat dances:
Fairly different from the Solo dance, this genre relies on power to shine. as the name clearly tells us, the core of the movements in this type of dance imitate a battle.
Chain dances and Line dances:
This genre includes a massive variety of dance types since it refers to ethnic regions. Some of these types are Kurdish, Azerbaijani, Lori, and so on.
Ritual dances and Spiritual dances:
Also known as Zikr, these types of dances usually are performed for things like healing practices.
These dances require music, special movement and trance. a very popular example would be the Le’b Guati, the anti-possession dance of the Baluchi natives of Iran.
This dance is basically a rhythmic, musical exorcism.
The following is a list of some Persian dance styles:
- Shamshir-bazi: It literally means sword dance.
- Pay-bazi: It literally means foot-dance.
- Raghs-e-Baluchi: Baluchistani dance.
Raghse Pa (foot):
Dance to be based on movements of feet.
This dance is seen mostly in zourkhaneh (Persian ancient gymnasium). Zourkahneh means the House of Power in Persian language.
Therefore, this is a dance that conveys strength.
Do Pa is a kind of Kurdish and Lorestani dance.
Se Pa is a kind of Kurdish and Lorestani dance.
Kurds are the third largest ethnic group in Iran so definitely they have their own special dance. In Kurdish dance, the participants stand in line and hold on to the little fingers. One of the dancers wags a handkerchief and sets the rhythm. The other dancers follow him with small steps. The musical instruments used are Dozal, Tombak, Sorna and Daf which set the rhythm.
Dance with tightening the jingles around the hands or the feet of dancer.
Raghse Charpareh or Raghs e Chalpareh:
Another kind of dancing.
Dance with chalap. Chalap is a kind of cymbal that is played in mourning ceremonies. Its smaller size is played in festive ceremonies. Other names of Chalap are Chalab, Senj, Zang, and Tal. Tal is Indo-Persian name of cymbal.
Raghs-e shamshir or dance with swords originates from Ancient Persia as early as three thousand years ago. Dance with swords was a traditional entertainment in the province of Baluchistan and Sistan. The dance consists of two men with swords and shields. Base on the rhythm of the drum, Shamshiri dancers show battle movements. The participants show movement of attacking and defending themselves like those in the war and as the music gradually progresses, the movements get faster and more furious.
Raghs e chubi or Raghs e chupi:
Dance with sticks is called choob bazi or raghs-e choob. This is an aggressive and active sports dance, and only men take part in the dance. It is a kind of dancing consist of at least two dancers that they beat wooden sticks to mark the rhythm. This kind of dancing can be found in Romania also. This is a kind of duel between two men with sticks. During the dance, one of the dancers attack and the other one defends. The attacker circles around the opponent during the dance and tries to catch him by surprise and hit his legs. The opponent must fight back with a stick.
Sama literally means a joyful song and comes from the Arabic word, sam that means to listen, but Sama’ at whole means song (avaz), ecstasy (vajd) and dance (pay-kubi and dast-afshani) with its special rules and orders. Sama-o-raghs means the Sufism dance.
Qashghayies are Turkic tribes in the province of Fars, Isfahan, and Khuzestan. The people have several national dances: Raghse haft dastmal (dance with seven shawls), Raghse dastmal (dance with shawls), Buir Ahmadi and Ashrafi. In qashghayi the dance women wear bright colored skirts and they hold bright scarves in their hands. The female dancers make a circle and jump in small steps and because of this motion, their beautiful and colorful skirts mover synchronously.
Raghs e Halat: Dance of Sufis.
Raghs e Arefan: Dance of Sufis.
Raghs e Ammi:
This is the opposite of Raghse Arefan. It is a kind of dance that has not a sophisticated aim.
Raghs e Ghasemabadi:
This is a kind of Persian folk dance of Ghasemabad region to be located in North of Iran, Gilan province, showing the weeding of farmers.
Raghs e Razif:
Razif is a kind of sword dance, which was popular among the sailors of the Persian Gulf. They were dancing to relieve tension. Now Razif is a popular dance at weddings.
In Persian, bandari means ”harbor.” This famous Iranian folk dance is from the Persian Gulf. The movement of performers and the way they wave their hands that resembles the cooperation of a group of fishermen at the sea
Raghs e Kachul:
It is a kind of dance to be mentioned in Persian literature.
Place for dancing. Khaneh literally means house and home.
Raghs e Darvishan: Dance of Dervishes.
Raghs e Shateri:
Famous popular dance to be based on movements of bakers while they are cooking bread in bakeries.
Raghs e Shotori:
Dance to be based on movements of camel.
Raghs e Torki:
It means Turkish dance. The most known derivation of this style would be the Lezgi dance. Another beautiful type would be the Diringi, which is slightly less known.
The Diringi is somewhat a similar type as the Persian Reng, as it is light and rhythmic. The Diringi differs in the tempo according to the feel of the dance routine.
Raghse Shekam is a kind of dancing very popular in Egypt. It is called belly dance and in Iran it is called Arabic dance.
Raghse Sheikhi is a kind of Persian folk dance in suburb of Iranshahr city.
Raghse Baba Karam:
This is type of humorous Iranian dance which is actually a playful imitation of the machismo style of dance done by working class men of South Tehran.
Famous Iranian Dancers
There have been few famous dancers recorded in the history of Persian dance. In fact, there is little recorded information on Persian dance in general.
- Modern day Iranian dancers:
Farzaneh Kaboli is a famous Iranian dancer. She is the leader in the Iranian Folkloric and National Dance Art and actress in cinema and theater. She is also a master of choreography in Iranian theaters. Prior to the Islamic Revolution of 1979, she was one of the soloists in Mr. Warren’s dance company and performed with the National Dance Company both within Iran and internationally at many prestigious venues. Kaboli studied in the “Iranian National and Folkloric Dance Academy” for three years. Despite of 1979’s Islamic revolution, Kaboli is allowed to hold concerts for female audience.
Haydeh was born in Iran and studied ballet in Germany and Russia before returning to Iran to pursue her career as a dancer and choreographer. She is one the most influential Iranian dancers of all time. She is responsible for promoting ballet dance in Iran by introducing Iranian historical motifs to the dance world of her country through her performances.
Changizian performed as the Prima Ballerina in Bijan and Manijeh. It was a ballet based on a Persian poem with the same name (a famous story in Sahnameh). She has danced in many ballet performances and has worked with some of the best and most well-known Iranian and international dancers and artists. She currently lives between Tehran and Lisbon.
Fatemeh Sadeghi known as Jamileh is an Iranian dancer and actress. Jamileh was born in 1946 in Iran. She is the most famous female dancer in Iran. Among different styles of dances, she is a great belly dancer.
Mohammad Khordadian is an Iranian dancer, choreographer and entertainer. He is one of the most famous male Iranian dancers. Khordadian was born in 1957 in Sabzevar, Iran. After Islamic revolution, he left Iran and started making Workout and Dance instruction videos which soon became popular in Iran. He now lives in California.
Shahrokh Moshkin Ghalam
Shahrokh Moshkin Ghalam is an Iranian modern dancer and choreographer. He was born in Iran but now lives in Paris. Shahrokh’s choreography style is usually based on Persian classical music, Persian myths, and poetry which he brings together with Persian dance masterfully. He is the first Iranian to be part of the prestigious Comédie-Française troupe. Moshkin Ghalam is also the founder and former artistic director of Nakissa Art Company.
- Below are some of the famous dancers of Iran, particularly in the Qajar reign:
Arus was a specialist is raghs-e-chep-chep.
Akhtar was a brilliant dancer. Her nickname says that she was skillful in raghs-e-ba-zang.
She was a good dancer and specialist in using zang-e-riz (small zang).
Galin was a talented singer and dancer and the conductor of a group.
Some of her students are: Malus, Jalis, Turan and Sedigheh.
She was a fine dancer and sister of Mashallah who was male dancer and kamancheh (Persian spike fiddle) player.
Munes was a great dancer and her sister, Anis, was a good tasnifkhan and dayereh (Persian frame drum) player.
Ghazal and Maral:
They were both good dancers.
She was a good dancer and tasnifkhan.
Heshmat was a specialist in acrobatic movements such as Mo’allagh-zadan.
She was a specialist in raghs-e-ard.