chapter  5
36 Pages

Dancing bodies in pre-revolutionary films and the “enticing” reel cabaret dancer

From the early years of cinematic production in Iran, dancing bodies were featured in films. Along with other “amusing” bodies-such as acrobats, cross-dressers, horse riders, and small people-the dancing bodies contributed to the visual attraction and hence to the financial success of the independent film industry of pre-revolutionary Iran. The choices of style and the look of the dancing bodies featured in films were contingent upon the social and historical context of the film narratives. Dancing bodies further provided means for projecting a sexual gaze onto female bodies. The Pahlavi-era Iranian cinema presented a diverse variety of dances and dancing bodies, ranging from European social dances to Iranian folk dances and art dances of different origins. The cabaret dancer, however, was arguably the most dominant dancing body in Iranian films. This chapter seeks to employ film as a venue to trace the dancing cultures

of pre-revolutionary Iran, rather than looking at Iranian cinema purely through a cinema-studies lens. Providing an overview of various dance genres presented in films within their larger socio-cultural context, this chapter then focuses on the cabaret dancer as a multi-layered character type who dominated the commercial genre of pre-revolutionary Iran, often known as film-i farsi.1 While the cinematic constructions of the onscreen cabaret dancer, her space of performance, and the intradiegetic audience are juxtaposed with larger socio-political and historical discourses, the bulk of this chapter investigates the transformation of the cabaret dancer as a character type developed in the three decades prior to the revolution, one that largely contributed to the bio-economy of the private-sector film industry of Iran.