chapter  1
17 Pages


This transdisciplinary historiographical study offers a narrative of corporeality in modern Iran centered on the transformation of the staged dancing body, its space of performance, and its spectatorial cultural ideology. It analyzes the ways in which dancing bodies have provided evidence for competing representations of modernity, urbanity, and Islam throughout the twentieth century. This book focuses particularly on three theatrical Iranian dance genres (as discourses) which emerged in the twentieth century. These include the “national dance” (raqs-i milli) of the Pahlavi era (1925-79); cabaret dancing of the post-1940 era (onstage and on cinema screens); and the postrevolutionary genre called “rhythmic movements” (harikat-i mawzun).1 Each genre is studied as an artistic product conditioned by multiple social, cultural, political, economic and ideological factors (see Figures 1.1-1.3). Exploring the socio-historical milieu of performance, this book investigates

the (contending) discursive constructions of the dancing body and its audience. At the same time, it historicizes the formation of dominant cultural categories of “modern,” “high,” and “artistic” in Iran and the subsequent “othering” of cultural realms that were discursively peripheralized from the “national” stage. This is enhanced by close analysis of the three contending modern vernacular social discourses: (1) the national(ist) discourse, which was aimed at educating the nation and achieving national arts, (2) the antiobscenity discourse of the press with religious orientations, which I will refer to as Islamic discourse, and (3) the Marxist-inspired discourse of performing arts and mainly the theater. All of these discourses intersected in reacting to the intrusion of female sexuality into public space and the emergence and commercialization of mixed gender forms and sites of urban popular entertainment. Within this analysis is a parallel discussion throughout the book on the historicization of the ways notions of “degeneration” (ibtizal) and “eroticism” (shahvat) have been constructed, reconfigured, and deployed in the twentieth-century context as moral and aesthetic criteria applied to the performing body. This book further explores the ideological applications of the cultural

categories for conditioning the aesthetics and ethics of the dancing body onstage, as well as the audience’s taste. This includes the impetuses behind the

Figure 1.1 A national dancer in the late 1940s The studio for the revival of classical arts of Iran, souvenir program, undated.