The art of dancing is an integral part of Iranians’ culture, rooted in the country’s long history and even depicted on ancient potteries.
Traditional Iranian dances are influenced by natural phenomena, people’s thoughts and emotions, or religious rituals and beliefs. In ancient times, they were also a means of worship.
Every dance form is defined by the society in which it was created and should be understood in the context of that society and culture. Iran, a vast country with various ethnic groups, is the birthplace of many traditions and customs, many of which have their own dance form. Folk dances in Iran help members of an ethnic group distinguish themselves from others.
In this article we mention some of the most iconic Iranian dances which have stood the test of time and are still preformed in their respective societies.
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Azeri folk dances, mostly performed in weddings or cultural and sports events, represent the people’s pride and culture.
Azerbaijani dances have many forms, mostly with synchronized hand movements and steps.
Gentle movements of the head, arms and upper body are the main focus of performances by women. These graceful motions of the body, made to represent tenderness and dignity, make it seem as though the performers float through the air.
Men’s dances are defined by fast rhythms and rapid and complex movements, particularly in the lower body. There is a lot of swift toe-standing and knee-bending involved in men’s dance moves, meant to reflect bravery and strength. One of the more well-known dances is Avari, which starts with slow steps and before the pace picks up.
Kurdish dances are upbeat and fast-paced, and represent unity. Men and women lock hands, forming a curved line (or a circle of the numbers grow) and move anti-clockwise.
The most common type of Kurdish dance consists of a step forward to the right followed by a step back. There’s a lot of shoulder shrugging involved, particularly by men.
Starting with a few people, holding their hands, others will join and make a wide circle or curved line with the elders usually at the beginning of the line and younger ones at the end. Men and women lock fingers or hands, or place their hands on each other’s back when number of people in the dance is too many to move quickly.
The person at the beginning of the line dictates the pace of the dance based on the rhythm of the music. Called serchopi (or sarchopi) the dance leader waves a scarf in tune with the beat of the music, and they may at times step out of the line and stand in front of the dancers, leading the dance like a conductor.
Standing shoulder to shoulder and holding hands, the dance represents unity and equality and it is an integral part of Kurdish identity. The dances are performed in weddings and other joyous social and cultural occasions.
Although it is named Tehrani Dance (Raghs-e Tehrani), the dance is common in most urban areas all around Iran, so it is also called “party dance”.
It is not important how many people dance at the same time, Tehrani Dance is basically a solo mission. Sometimes people form a circle in a party or wedding and one or two dancers dance in the center, with people taking turn dancing in the center.
A low level descendent of Persian Dance which was graceful hand movements and swaying back and forth, Tehrani dance is mostly in 6/8 rhythm, with arms held at shoulder level and gentle movements of feet and hands, and facial expressions being an inseparable part of it – you just can’t help it!
With more emphasis on feelings, Tehrani dancers show joy, pride or other expressions through facial expressions, sometimes even in a comical way.
Unless people’s religion bars them from mingling with the opposite sex, Tehrani dance groups are usually mixed.
Chobbazi (cub-bazi or stick dance) is another Iranian folk dance that is common among people in eastern and northeastern regions.
In Chobbazi, which is being particularly practiced in Baluchistan and Khorasan, several people form a circle and dance with the sound of dohol (a type of drum) and sorna. Dancers which are only men, strike wooden sticks while turning around in circles. Chobbazi, like most folk dances in Iran, is a reflection of the locals’ bravery and resielience, as well as skills in war.
Since being in synch with others in the group is essential in this dance, Chobbazi also shows the importance of social life and unity.
At the peak of the dance – when drummers pick up the pace to such an extreme that you can only hear the sound of sticks – dancers let out loud noises which is meant to represent pre-combat intimidation rituals.
A mostly male dance, it begins with a slow rhythm and reaches its peak at the end of the dance. Sometimes, there may be two or more professional dancers in the middle of the circle waving around swords.
Our last and one of the most iconic dances in Iran is one that is common among the people of northern provinces, e.g. Mazandaran and Gilan, known as Kharman Dance (Harvest Dance).
The dance begins with a prayer and involves depicting different phases of harvesting rice. It usually shows three phases. The circle formed in first phase is the biggest one, in which dancers spin around at a dizzying pace, representing seed planting. The second and third phases are much slower, with the third involving the smallest circle of the three.
Kharman Dance, which gets its name from a ceremony of the same name, is performed once a year after harvest season in rural areas in northern Iran. It provides an opportunity for people to celebrate their hard work and thank their God for his generosity and blessing.
The dance, a symbolic representation of harvest, showed the importance of protection and maintenance of agricultural land in cold months.
It was common practice for farmers to sing songs and pray while working back in the day, so dancers act out praying during their performance.
In olden days, men and women would dance separately and while most of the movements were the same, there were small differences, e.g. women would include moves that represented doing household chores. However, these differences are almost non-existent in the modern Kharman Dance, particularly when performed in festivals.