Elevate Difference

Forbidden Sun Dance

Directed by Lila Ghobady

My body belongs to me. I make the choice of whether or not I use contraception, dance like a silly garden gnome, use drugs like booze, and paint my toenails green or pink or leave them natural. Unfortunately, there are many powerful people in this world—including the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran—who believe they have a right to police other people’s bodies.

Lila Ghobady’s documentary Forbidden Sun Dance explores dance instructor Aram Bayat’s life—from teaching dance in Iran to her exile to Canada after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Before watching this film, I was clueless about Iran. Yes, I’d read about how 'angry men' destroyed the lives of women by throwing acid on their faces, but I’d not really taken the time to learn about the country's history. Although dance teachers were part of the education system, the post-Revolution powers that be fired the dance teachers and banned traditional dance. Forbidden Sun Dance intersperses scenes of dance instruction and performance with interview clips and protest footage from the Revolution. The dancing footage is beautiful and flows with emotion, highlighting the passion that Aram feels for the loss of dance in her homeland.

The story was so moving that I brought it up in a group discussion about feminism at a local action centre. One woman immediately barked back, “What has dance got to do with feminism?!?” I was blown away. Denial of the right to dance is the denial of the feminine, and of the self; it is the loss of individual power. In the film, dance is equated with freedom: if you can’t use your body in the way you want, oppression is successful.

Not only does Forbidden Sun Dance reveal the tragedy of an oppressed people, the dance ban is, as Aram notes, the suppression of human nature since, as babies we automatically make rhythmic movements and sounds of song, and banning folk dance is only the tip of the iceberg in the removal of human rights in present day Iran. Aram speaks of the violent atrocities that continue to be committed against Iranian women. Despite the dire state of women’s rights in her former home, Aram doesn’t give up on the dream that one day dance will return to Iran.

Written by: Nicolette Westfall, June 3rd 2009