In a long red dress with a small crown in her hair, Mojdeh dances in front of a red curtain in the cheer of a female audience in Tehran, Iran. Nona (18), Mojdeh (21), Reyhaneh (22) and Yasamin (22) belong to the same ballet group in Tehran. They are part of the Iranian post-war generation, which stands up for self-determination, freedom and equality.
In 1958 the Iranian national ballet company was established and produced over 50 shows till the revolution. According to the Iranian law, immorality and fornication result from sensual dance, why 1979 all dance facilities got dissolved and dance got banned from the Iranian public.
Nevertheless, more and more Iranians are dancing today and try to make this their profession. The ballerina Pardis formed a ballet group with Nima, a contemporary dancer, in 2008, which ten years later performed for the first time after the revolution with both women and men on Tehran‘s most famous stage.
Having said that, the group is struggling with reprisals: Already approved plays are cancelled, the light is turned off during the performance and too much public attention, such on Instagram for instance may result in the arrest of the participating artists.
Whereas during the revolution ballet’s abolition symbolized independence from the West, today dance stands for the longing of a generation for Western freedom.
This story is about the social change in Iran on the basis of a subculture in which dance is elementary to life. The dancers show a peaceful resistance to a patriarchal and fundamental society. By this, they represent a whole generation, who reclaims their desired future.
“I was standing back stage before going on stage on this performance and I literally teared up thinking that this is all I want to do in my life”, says Nona (18) after dancing on stage for a female audience. She is frustrated about the inequality and disadvantage she experiences in comparison to foreign dancers. Nona studies chemistry in Tehran, but she is very determined to pursue a career as a dancer.
The crew rehearses for a show which got cancelled shortly before the premiere. A video of the dance rehearsals went viral on iranian media, which bashed the show. While rehearsing in Iranian public facilities, women have to wear wide, long and dark clothes.
Yasamin (22) spends her evening with her boyfriend by an artificial lake in western Tehran. Almost a decade ago, relationships between unmarried women and men were a taboo among the majority of Iranians. Back then, couples could be arrested by the morality police for their relationship. Nowadays having a girl- or boyfriend is much more accepted in the Iranian society.
Yasamin (22) and her friend Mojdeh (20) prepare a pose for a photo for their social media. According to national Iranian media, these women are a tiny minority, almost not existing. Even the word "dance" shall not be used. Instead institutions shall officially use the names rhythmic movements, theatrical motion or aerobic for their dance classes.
“If they take away dance from me, it is like they took away my life.“ A portrait of Mojdeh (20) after she performed a ballet solo at a show for a female audience in northern Tehran. Mojdeh dreams of becoming a professional ballet dancer. Since there is no higher education program for dancers in Iran, she is searching for a good institution abroad.
Reyhaneh (22) does a splits on the sofa while her brother tickles her. Reyhaneh dances for ten years. She had to persuade her parents for a long time before she was finally allowed to participate in dance classes five years ago. Meanwhile her parents support Reyhaneh and ask her to dance at family gatherings. However, the dream of fathers seeing their daughters on stage remains unfulfilled in Iran.
Reyhaneh (22) sits on the floor of the metro in Tehran after a long working day. An hour earlier she was asked by three different people to dress according to the Islamic guidelines within 50 meters.
While 27% of Iranians below 25 years are unemployed, young dancers can work as dance instructors. Reyhaneh (22) teaches several times a week and mainly spends her income on dance lessons and travelling.
“I had to fight a lot for my freedom with my parents. Even for my education - I had to study MBA until they allowed me to switch to tourism.” says Reyhaneh (22).
Yasamin (22) is a visual designer who suffers in the Iranian traditional society. Although her mother is a practicing muslim, she totally supports her daughter. This shows the social change in Iran. While parents of previous generations believed that „good girls don‘t dance“ or „girls can‘t laugh loudly in public“, today‘s parents are more tolerant and support their children, even if they have different opinions.
Sometimes Yasamin (22) dances on the rooftop of her home. Many Iranian women dream of singing and dancing under the sky of their homeland.
Nevertheless there are performances with dance and singing for women in Iran. However, there are no pictures of such events, as all bags are controlled at the entrance and mobile phones and cameras are submitted. They are a hidden, surreal, parallel world in which the women can be free.