Russian Anarchist Emma Goldman once said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” Well, this is very true in the case of the few ballet dancers left in Iran who are combating Tehran’s oppressive morality laws by dancing in secret. Before the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the country poured funding into forms of self expression, dance programs for ballet as well as traditional Iranian dances were funded by the government. However, after the Shah’s government was overthrown, dance was declared sinful.
As a dancer myself, I found connectivity to my culture by Israeli folk dancing, which actually shares similar movements to traditional Persian dancing. That being said, it’s sad that dance in Iran is dwindling and has become considered a sin in a country with such a rich history of dance. Although Iran did not always see dance as a sin before the Islamic revolution, aspiring dancers had an array of different ballet slippers available to them from cheap to high-quality dance shoes. But there is one brave woman who is now using the power of social media to keep colorful dance shoes available in Iran. Dancer Alkistis Dimech uses social media to offer the world a glimpse into her shoe making abilities.
I admire the swag and detail of Dimech’s vibrant ballet shoes, and her bravery deeply moves me. Today, most of Iran’s dance shoemakers have fled to other countries. However, Dimech has stayed in Iran to contribute to making the artform available to those who dare to dance. In a interview with Vice Magazine she stated, “I make dance shoes. They cannot forbid making shoes… The government still says dance is sinful, so you must not dance, unless you pay bribes, and then you can dance, but only in secret…I put the shoes’ photos on my Instagram and it has a specific audience. Most people don’t know about it. When some of my friends saw it they said they did not know that they were shoes for dancing. They did not recognize them.”
She puts the shoes on Instagram to make it known for dancers that ballet shoes are still very much available, and that the art of dance is still alive and kicking in Iran. Since Sharia laws were put in place, women in Iran have been fighting for their rights to express themselves, not only in dance, but in other forms of expression. For instance, women in Iran wore red lipstick during the Lipstick Revolution of 2009 to protest the government’s ban on wearing vibrant shades of makeup. Dance has become a pluralistic silent expression of movement in Iran today. A silent feminist resistance to an oppressive government.
While The Iranian National Ballet Company closed in 1979, shortly after all its foreign dancers fled the country due to the revolution, the dancers who stayed essentially created an underground railroad of dancing. Dancing in abandoned hospitals and office spaces, these creative souls are not just dancing for themselves but against an oppressive government.
Maya Angelou once said “Everything in the universe has a rhythm, everything dances. ” And these women in Iran are keeping that rhythm going.