May I have this dance?

Shirin Abedi

2019 - Ongoing

Tehran, Tehrān, Iran; Karaj, Alborz, Iran

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, which 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. By this, the dancers represent a whole generation, who reclaims their desired future.

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  • Nona (18) studies chemistry in Tehran.
    Although she is talented and passionate about dancing, she struggles to find similar education in dance like international dancers. Nona is frustrated about this inequality but still wants to pursue a career as a dancer.

  • Nona (18) and other dancers during a warm up before their ballett sessions in Tehran.

  • "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 often tries new choreographies in her dance school and posts videos of it afterwards on Instagram.

  • “If they take away dance from me, it is like they took away my life.” – Mojdeh (20) 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.

  • Mojdeh (20) keeps a book in which she writes down her dreams.
    "Sometimes I imagine I'm dancing on a big stage in front of an international audience. But very fast I remember it is not real.“

  • 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.
    According to national Iranian media, these women don't exist. Even the word "dance" shall not be used. Instead institutions shall officially use the names rhythmic movements, theatralic motion or aerobic for their dance classes.

  • Mojdeh (20) streches in the evening after her rehearsal at home. Since some iranian dancers got arrested because their dancing videos went viral on instagram, Mojdeh keeps her account private for her safety. She often shares videos of her dance or workouts on Instagram. She says: ”Instagram is one of our few delights.”

  • Mojdeh's boyfriend Saeed (25) kisses her while they are waiting at a red traffic light. Almost a decade ago, reationships 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.

  • Reyhaneh (22) 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.
    "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. "

  • Reyhaneh (22) does a splits on the sofa while her brother tickles her. Although her parents were against her participation in dance classes, they meanwhile ask Reyhaneh to dance at family gatherings and support her.

  • 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 instructers. Reyhaneh (22) teaches several times a week and mainly spends her income on dance lessons and traveling.

  • Reyhaneh (22) follows her mother on a wedding in the Karaj, a sattelite town of the capital.
    The saddest part of dancing ballet in Iran is that father can't ever see their daughter's performances on stage. While there are shows for a female audience, for many fathers and daughters this dream remains unfulfilled.

  • 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.

  • asamin (22) lays by the wall after warming up for a rehearsal in Tehran. Women have to wear wide, long and dark clothes while rehearsing in Iranian public facilities.

  • Yasamin (22) started smoking at the age of 12. She smokes in her room while watching a movie about Frida Kahlo, a mexican painter Yasamin admires.

  • Sometimes Yasamin (22) dances on the rooftop of her home. Many Iranian women dream of singing and dancing under the sky of their homeland.

  • But 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.