Art and Culture

Jamileh Kharrazi: Iranian (Persian) Dance

By Jamileh Kharrazi

DANCE (raqṣ). The term dance has been defined as a “transient mode of expression, performed by the human body moving in space . . . through purpose­fully selected and controlled rhythmic movements . . . ”

Iran possesses four categories of dance and these genres are; chain or line dances, solo improvisational dance, war or combat dances and ritual or spiritual dances. Persian dance history is characterized by many fascinating and also tragic incidents. It seems to be completely unknown to the outside world, partly because of the present political situation of the country that has toned down the interest for a profound research effort. The other reason is the current archaeological discoveries and excavations in Iran, during the past thirty years. They have made it possible to have access to material and evidence for the origin of Persian dance, ever since the appearance of the cult of Mithra about two thousand years before our calendar.

By virtue of these bases, Iran can be considered as one of the ancient world’s empires, which methodically and actively was devoted to the development of the art of dance. For this ancient nation, dancing has been an important social phenomenon and a religious ritual.

Chain or Line dances are often named for the region or the ethnic groups with which they are associated.

Solo dance includes usually reconstructions of Safavid and Qajar Court Dance. These often are improvisational dances and utilize delicate, graceful movements of the hands and arms, such as wrist circles.

War or Combat dances imitate combat, or help train the warrior. It could be argued that men from the zurkhaneh (a traditional Persian style gymnasium) called the “House of Strength” and their ritualized, wrestling-training movements are known as a type of dance called Raghs-e-Pa but could also been seen as a martial art.

Ritual or spiritual dances, are often Sufi are known as sama and also a type of zikr (religious chant).There are various types of dancing in a trance for healing practices in Iran and surrounding areas. One healing ritual that involves trance, music, and movement is called le’b guati of the Baluchis of Eastern Iran, which is performed to rid a possessed person of the possessing spirit and appears to be in a similar state as an exorcism. There is a term in Balochi “gowati” for psychologically ill patients (possessed by wind) who have recovered through music healing, music as medicine. The southern coastal regions of Iran such as Qeshm Island have a similar possession by wind ceremony and it is thought that it may be influenced or originated in Africa, particularly the Abyssinian or Ethiopian region.

The word sama, from the Arabic root meaning “to listen,” refers to the spiritual practice of listening to music and achieving unity with the Divine, it is spelled sema in Turkish.[2] Dancing mystics (regardless of their specific religious identifications) are called Dervish.

Contemporary social dances and urban dance performed at festive occasions like weddings and Noruz celebrations focus less on communal line or circle dances and more on solo improvisational forms, with each dancer interpreting the music in her own special way but within a specific range of dance vocabulary sometimes blending other dance styles or elements.


  • Baba Karam, a chain dance, derived from a Sufi story whereby a servant at the court of the king falls in love with one of the harem girls and sings this song out of grief of not being able to be with her, was traditionally featuring male dancers but nowadays also performed by women, also sometimes Baba Karam refers to as a term for contemporary Persian Hip-Hop dancing.
  • Bandari dance, a chain dance, often referred to as “Persian belly dancing” refers to the style of dancing indigenous to Southwestern, Bandar region of Iran influenced by the African and Arabic music and dance. The distinct feature of this dance is the way performers wave their hands in a unique manner that resembles the cooperation of a group of fishermen at the sea.
  • Basseri dance is a traditional dance performed by the Basseri tribe who live in the Fars province.The dancers wear their traditional and colorful clothes.
  • Bojnordi dance, Bojnord is a village in the northeast section of Iran inhabited by a Turkic people. Men and women dance separately or together in Bojnordi dance, snapping their fingers in the method known as peshkan. Dancing in a circle with running and step hop steps, the dancers may turn alternate directions facing first one side then the next, dancers sometimes facing one another. Men or women may dance and wave small colorful scarves, called dastmal.
  • Choob bazi, also known as chob bazi, chub-bazi, çûb-bâzî or raghs-e choob a chain dance found all over Iran, performed by men with sticks, the name translates to English as ‘stick play’. There are two types of Choob bazi dance styles, the first one is more combative in style, only performed by men (normally only two men, assuming the roles as the attacker and the defender) and does not appear to have a rhythmic pattern, this style is more frequently found in Southwestern Iran. The second style Choob bazi is a circle or line dance with pattern, performed by both sexes and is more of a social dance.
  • Classical Persian court dances, solo dances, improvisational, often utilizes delicate, graceful movements of the hands and arms with animated facial expressions are central to the concept of that difficult-to-define flirtatiousness, Persian classical dance has not been organized and codified. Thus each dancer creates her own style and improvises within a recognizably Persian framework of movements.] Costumes for these types of dance are featuring rich silks, brocades and flowing long skirts.
  • Haj Naranji dance, an upper body motion is emphasized, with hand motions, trunk undulations and facial expressions being points of attention
  • Jâheli, dance popularized in the 60s and 70s by the known Persian dancer Jamileh. Jâheli part of an Iranian sub-culture that has its origins in 9th and 10th century, a period when Turkic and Mongol tribes seeking pasturage and pillage, formed an incursion in eastern Iran. Local, informal constabularies were formed to protect each town or village and the men of these groups, called jâhel (meaning “ignorant” in Farsi), along with women, developed a culture and dance with a mixture of street smarts and spirituality.
  • Khaliji dance, contemporary dance done in largely improvisational, performed by pairs or groups of women for their own entertainment at special celebrations, such as weddings. Also a term used to describe a type of Khaliji music from the Persian Gulf region.
  • Kereshmeh dance, solo, 19th Century Iranian royal court dance.
  • Kharman dance
  • Khorasani dance
  • Latar dance
  • Le’b Guati, a spiritual dance by the Baluchis of Eastern Iran in order to rid a person of a possessing spirit.
  • Lezgi dance, Azerbaijani and Caucasian folk dance, comes in variations of styles based on region.
  • Luri dance
  • Matmati
  • Mazandarani dance
  • Motrebi dance, professional public dancers from the Qatar period, sometimes also prostitutes or party entertainment. In contemporary Iran this is a dance associated with low-class nightclub performers.
  • Qasemabadi, also known as Ghasem Abadi, is a chain genre, rice-harvesting dance of the Gilaki people from the Gilan province of Iran near the Caspian Sea.
  • Raghs-e-Pa, also known as Raqs-e Pa or Pay-Bazi, the term for the traditional gymnasium foot work dance found at zurkhaneh (a traditional Iranian gym), name translates to English as ‘foot dance’.
  • Raghs-e-Pari, Persian fairy dance.
  • Raghs-e Parcheh, Persian veil dance.
  • Raghs-e Sharqi, belly dancing.
  • Ru-Howzi, a comic theatre performance on domestic life includes some dancing.
  • Sama-o-raghs, a spiritual Sufi dance of joy, involves chanting, dancers move to the rhythm of the music often continuing until they fall into a trance or collapse from exhaustion.
  • Shamshir dance, war dance involving a sword, also known as Shamshir-bazi;usually performed in Sistan and Baluchestan province.
  • Shateri dance, classical Persian dance often compared to Arabic dance however Shateri is without any hip movements.
  • Tehrani dance, also known as Tehrooni, Tehran-style nightclub dancing.
  • Vahishta, a Sufi, spiritual dance.
  • Yalli, also known as Yally or Halay, an Azerbaijani chain folk dance, starts slowly and finishes fast at almost running speed. Traditionally it was a celebration of fire, which was a source of heat, light, and warm food. In ancient times dancers worship fire as a goddess.
  • Zaboli dance, a folk, chain dance, from the Sistan and Baluchestan Province in Southeastern Iran.
  • Zār, a spiritual dance, from Southern coastal regions of Iran, people believe in the existence of winds that can be either viscous or peaceful and possess people. They are healed through a specific ceremony and dance.
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Jamileh Kharrazi has worked for many years to connect the East and West through Art and culture

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