Iranian 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.
It is the irony of history that ever since the revolution in 1979, this art form has been prohibited in the same country that once upon a time performed a central role for its expansion and advancement.
The several thousand years of Iranian history is characterized by great events that influenced important parts of the world and its civilization. It ranges over eras of grandeur but also over painful and absurd periods of defeat and destruction.
The following is a prelude to an exhaustive research work about the history of Persian dance, which I will become absorbed in during the coming years. I hope that it will improve in quality and content and will make a contribution to expose this national art form. The forgotten history of Persian dance is the story of a world heritage, which has to be given a new birth.
In this summary article I have chosen to spotlight seven different eras, from the prehistoric cult of Mithra until the present, which have included decisive events and episodes for developments, but also destructions of this art form. The rise of the new millennium undoubtedly implies a new productive period for Persian dance, as the Iranian society and the new generation of Iran move toward an era of enlightenment.
The Cult of Mithra and the Origine of Persian Dance The origin and rise of Persian dance as an independent and distinctive art form is estimated to be parallel with the birth of Mithraism and its spread. This cult centrally revolves around the ancient Persia's sun and light God, Mithra, who is the main figure in this mystery religion that during the late antique era spread over the entire Roman Empire. Numerous temples and depictions of the legendary Mithra have been located and excavated in the three continents of the ancient world; Asia, Africa and Europe. The latest discovery has been done in London as late as 1954.
The most important ritual in this cult has been the worship of Mithra, as he is sacrificing a bull. This act was believed to promote the vigour of life. The consecration to this belief was accomplished among other rites through the baptism in the blood of a bull, followed by a ritual dance performed only by men. This ceremonial act is considered as the earliest known form of Iranian dance, and the origin of the magic dance of the antique civilisations. It is typical for sacred Persic (Persian) dance, so called "Danse Persique Sacrée".
The most significant bases for researching around the ancient Persian dance can be found in the Greek historian from Halikarnassos, Herodotos' superb work "Nine Books". He describes the old history of Asian empires and Persian wars until 478 BC.
In several occasions he has indicated and in detail described the cultural and social habits of Persians. He has mentioned the wide cultural exchange that Persians had with the ancient world. "From every corner of the known (antique) world, the most appreciated artists were imported to the imperial court in order to practice their artistic abilities in the presence of the majestic Emperor and his court."
This clip is a production of our own city, it was first performed during the CIRA conference in Portland, OR 1998. Choreographer was Saharnaz Rezania, performers were Mondonna Salehi, Niloufar Nouri, Gabriele Ross and Susan Salimi (courtesy of Iran-e-man TV).
This clip is from a professional dance group, Afsaneh Ballet.
This clip is a folk dance from Gilan the northern state by the Caspian sea.