This photo of a ballet dancer was published on a private Facebook group. The dancer's face is blurred for security reasons.
Like all forms of dance, ballet is officially banned in Iran. Yet many women practice it at gyms around the country under the guise of gymnastics, and this, to a certain extent, is tolerated. Still, the ban makes it difficult for students to get proper training and even more so to hold performances.
In Iran, there are a number of activities that are outright banned, though rather commonly practiced underground, like women's singing and tattoo art. Others, like women’s bodybuilding, hip hop dance and parkour occupy a gray area, and are practiced quietly, not completely underground. Ballet falls in this latter category. It is so popular, in fact, that to find tutus and ballet shoes is quite easy: they are sold in most athletics goods stores. The Gymnastics Federation’s website even lists ballet as a form of gymnastics, though it is careful to refer to it as the “sport of ballet”, and not a dance.

“Dancers put on underground shows, but there’s always the worry that someone will film them on their mobile phone”

Hnai has practiced ballet from a young age and now teaches at a Tehran gym.
I was instructed by a teacher who had learnt ballet at the Royal Academy of Dance in London. She has trained a number of other teachers, and of course there are also other teachers who have trained abroad. But there are also people who have taught themselves ballet by watching videos on YouTube, and are now teaching others. Sometimes their classes are quite expensive! A while back, I went to the Royal Academy of Dance in London and trained there for two months. It made me realize just how bad much of the training in Iran is.
A photo published by a gym on their website.
Recently, some gyms have started bringing in foreign instructors, in particular from Ukraine, and their level seems to be quite good; they teach not just the moves but also the philosophy of dance and how to put emotion into it.

A recent development that I find interesting is that for a long time, women and girls were the only ones who wanted to learn ballet in Iran, but recently, young moms have been signing up their little boys for classes. Some grown men are signing up too. For the men, however, gyms have to hold secret classes, because all the instructors are women and they would get in trouble if the authorities found out that they were teaching men.
A gym in Tehran.
Performances, too, are mostly held in secret. They take place either at gyms or at people’s homes. The guests are a select few, and are invited in person so as to avoid detection. Even so, there is always the concern that someone will film the performance on their mobile phone and that these images will surface later and cause problems for the dancers.
A gym in Tehran.

“On the rare occasion that ballet dancers get a performance permit, they have to wear long, loose-fitting clothing”

Sima also teaches ballet at a Tehran gym.
Because the ballet scene is underground, there is no supervision or state-regulated standards that instructors have to adhere to. This leads to some people calling themselves professionals, though they know very little, which is dangerous. In their classes, children get hurt because they wear pointe shoes that even the instructors don’t know how to use correctly. In many of these classes, there are no wooden floors, bars or mirrors. The certificates handed out at the end of these courses, in most cases, lack any value.
This ballet dancer's photo was published on a private Facebook group.
Sometimes, performance permits are given out under the guise of gymnastics or even theatre. But in these cases, the audience must be all-female, and the dancers have to wear long and loose-fitting costumes, complete with stockings and a pair of pants over that. Not exactly ideal for ballet! So it’s easier to hold private, underground performances.
A dancer practicing at home.
Despite all these difficulties, there are some good dancers in Iran, but we’re nowhere near international standards. For ballet to progress, the mindset of people who think that dancing will cause them to lose their faith needs to evolve, but this seems a far-off dream.