Iran’s underground hip hop dance scene
Aside from some sanctioned, traditional dances, it is forbidden to dance in Iran. Hip hop music is also forbidden. And yet hip hop dancing is becoming a very popular hobby with young Iranians.
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A group of young hip hop dancers who go by the name "Khoy B Boys". Photo published on their Facebook page.
Aside from some sanctioned, traditional dances, it is forbidden to dance in Iran. Hip hop music is also forbidden. And yet hip hop dancing is becoming a very popular hobby for young Iranians.
There was a time when young Iranians would go to nightclubs to watch famous dancers perform in various styles, while enjoying dinner and drinks. However, when the Islamic revolution came in 1979, the era of dancing, music and alcohol came to an end.
Now, more than three decades after the revolution, the youth have figured out ways to get around their country’s laws. Today’s young Iranians stealthily play in rock bands, get tattoos, and do graffiti art. And today, they dance to hip hop, too.
A group of young hip hop dancers who go by the name "Khoy B Boys". They hail from the small Iranian town of Khoy.
Iranian students dancing hip hop in a classroom.
Many Iranian hip hop dancers record themselves at home and post the videos to YouTube.
“The authorities won’t give hip hop a chance because they see it as a sign of Westernization”
Alireza, 21, is a hip hop dancer and teacher in Tehran.
When I discovered Michael Jackson’s music videos a few years ago, I decided I wanted to learn to dance like him. Unlike a lot of my friends who got into drugs as teenagers, I put all my energy into hip hop. Today, I teach hip hop in parks, where there aren’t too many people, or in sports clubs, where I officially teach “physical exercise” or “coordinated movement”. Most of my students are between the ages of 14 and 28.
Our Observer dancing on a rooftop.
There are lots of other teachers like me, in cities across Iran. Sometimes, we hold “battles” between dancers. For example, dancers from different cities like Shira, Isfahan, Mashad and Tehran will meet in a public park in the capital to face off. These battles are not about money – sometimes, each person will put down 500,000 rials, but in most there is no money involved.
A "battle" in Tehran.
Hip hop dancers in Iran are just as good as in many other countries where the sport is popular, and that’s no mean feat given the challenges they face. Unfortunately, the Iranian authorities won’t let us hold official events. I really do not understand why. Recently, during the Eid celebrations [at the end of Ramadan], there was an official ceremony in Tehran to which were invited traditional Kurdish dancers as well as parkour athletes [male only]. However, they won’t give hip hop a chance because they see it a Western dance and therefore a sign of Westernization. What I find ironic is that the authorities who wear Western clothing, so why couldn’t they listen to Western music?
“Sports clubs must use music with no vocals, but this rule is completely ignored”
Zahra, 30, takes hip hop lessons at a sports club.
Officially, I’ve signed up for a ‘physical exercise’ class, but I’m learning hip hop. I’ve seen hip hop classes offered at nearly all the private sports clubs I’ve been to, along with Indian dancing, Arabic dancing, and ballet. Of course, it’s illegal, but it appears that the authorities turn a blind eye.
Hip hop dancers obtain permits to hold shows by saying they're going to do aerobics.
According to the police, sports clubs must use music with no vocals, but this rule is completely ignored. I almost never hear songs without vocals, and most of the time they use Western music, which is also illegal but widely listened to in Iran.
Hip hop dancing in a private sports club.
Pretty much everyone here knows this is going on. The teachers find their clients through word of mouth, since “physical exercise” isn’t going to attract a lot of people interested in hip hop. Every once in a while sports clubs organise dance performances. They’ll rent a studio and sell tickets to “coordinated movement” shows. Last year, my club put on a show, and the turnout was amazing!