No Dance Is Illegal by Sanaz Ghorbani
Updated: Aug 16
I started dancing ballet at age 20. I used to be an actress. After, I studied with a teacher named P. and then continued learning with her students. I started doing contemporary and modern dance from then on.
Modern dance is more than art, it’s about science, and doing it in an academic way really attracted me. I had doubts those days, because I had success taking part in three films as an actress. Little by little, I changed and went completely into the dance world.
At Sooreh Art University I majored in theater, drama. In the first semester I had a lesson called “folk culture”, and we all had to make a project. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to make a film about Zoroastrian people, or a project about folkloric dances in Iran. So I did an interview on Zoroastrianism with my friend, but then I didn’t choose it as my project for some reasons. I did that Persian folk dance project. I gathered some people. All of us were non-dancers at that time. They were actresses and actors of theater. It was successful. In those days, 10 years ago, it was riskier than today. During the project and after, I was taking modern and contemporary dance lessons and pilates. We were four people, three guys and I, who continued after that project with modern dance and contemporary, not folkloric. We chose modern and ballet because they are more academic which is more needed in our society.
We made some choreographic works together. The first one was based on Henry Purcell's “Dido’s Lament”. Some of our friends were musicians. They made a project about “Dido’s Lament” and they asked us to choreograph it.
That year there were elections in Iran. It was exactly that night that we were performing this dance, secretly in a small studio, while all of the people outside were striking, shouting. Everyone was telling us that we were mad those days, that the authorities would arrest us. We didn’t want to cancel our program. We asked some of our friends to stay at the main door to control everyone, with limited advertisement. Everyone was a friend, or friends of friends.
Still in Iran we have dancers who studied ballet in an academic way before the revolution, but the regime destroyed that after the Islamic Revolution and some of the artists escaped to other countries and some still live in Iran, but they do mainly theatrical performances or limited private dance shows while struggling with a lot of problems due to government restrictions. So many times they’ve been arrested by the Iranian government because of their performances. Most people create a small society and have their own shows. I decided to become a dancer because I needed that more than any other thing, not only me but also a whole country (Iran), which I can inspire and help keep this art alive there. About my parents' opinion I can say that when I chose “dance” they were worried about my future because I studied graphic design in high school then I changed to theater then dance which is also forbidden in Iran. They eventually accepted what I do.
Every time our friends were arrested we would have to deactivate our social media profiles, change our names or delete posts, be silent for a time, for a couple of days or weeks sometimes. Having the fear inside always, working under risk, it can let you down. Whenever we heard that they arrested a colleague we would postpone performances. The feeling of postponing every time by the government affects the mental and physical potential. People used to tell us to be careful when they arrested anyone in the wider dance community in Iran, mainly because we are girls and should be careful about our clothes, which is something I never agreed with. I’ve never done a performance with hijab in Iran or any other country. Once the owner of a studio we had a performance in argued and almost fought with me. They said we didn’t know you were going to have a dance performance without wearing the hijab, I also invited the two genders together. They were going to stop the performance, but I fought and I said I pay you more for this risk for your studio, but I won’t do it with a hijab on.
About my university final project for theatre I combined contemporary and folkloric Iranian dancing. I did it with Iranian music. We were three women. This matter is really important for me. We performed it in a very little studio in Tehran. We couldn’t perform it at my university because it was a dance performance and maybe they would expel me from the university. So I invited my university teacher to a private studio and we did it there, for them. Also, in my university courses, my teachers used to let me do dance choreographies instead of theater. This way they were supporting me by giving me space to improve in dance. Always, my friends were behind the door to save us from those university directors who were surveying.
In the end, I thank all of my teachers and friends who supported and accompanied me to improve in dance.
Sanaz Ghorbani is a Paris-based dance artist originally from Tehran. She is a movement researcher in contemporary salsa, and also filmmaking. She studies at ACTS école de danse contemporaine and is the founder of @movement.for.growth