Front Row at the Movies
"Desert Dancer" Whirls on Screen
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
You think Kevin Bacon had it bad in "Footloose"? Try dancing in Iran. Last year six young Iranian men and women who were videotaped dancing to Pharrell Williams’ "Happy" were given suspended jail terms and 91 lashes each.
The Islamic revolution of 1979 brought an end to professional dancing and ballet in Iran. Dancing was seen as a great sin, immoral, perverse, and corrupting.
"Although many Iranians dance at private parties, especially weddings, the ruling clerical establishment frowns on such behavior, especially when it involves the mingling of the sexes," says BBC journalist Jim Muir.
But there’s a long Persian tradition of dance. And the new generation is willing to break the rules.
To wit, there’s a new film aptly titled "Desert Dancer" that gives us the partly true story of Afshin Ghaffarian, a self-taught dancer and choreographer who risked his life to form a dance company in Iran. The group learned dance moves from watching videos of Michael Jackson, Gene Kelly and Rudolf Nureyev, even though such videos are banned.
"Desert Dancer" is currently whirling across screens at the Tropic Cinema.
As the film tells it, "Dancing is not illegal, it’s just not allowed."
"The dance is not banned in Iran, even though I may have contributed to the fact that you could have this impression," says the real-life Afshin Ghaffarian. "There is dancing everywhere, it is danced at weddings, it is private dance, even in official circles. The attitude to dance in the official Iran, however, demonstrated by the fact that you cannot call it a dance. Man hiding it behind other word terms. For example, my form of dance is called ‘physical theater.’ Hip-hop is called aerobics. Classical ballet, you can learn in Tehran, is ‘Rhythmic Gymnastics,’ i.e. sports. All of these things there are, they are just called differently."
In the film, Afshin (portrayed by English actor Reece Ritchie) forms a romantic bond with another dancer, a beautiful ballerina named Elaheh (Freida Pinto of "Slumdog Millionaire"). They practice in the desert (hence the film’s title), offering us a sensuous pas de deux.
In real life, Afshin Ghaffarian defected after a 2009 performance in Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany. Five years later he returned to Iran.