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Contemporary Scholarship on Dance & Dancers in/from Iran

A roundtable with Drs. Anthony Shay, Ida Meftahi, and Heather Rastovac Akbarzadeh, followed by a dance performance with Aisan Hoss.

Iranian dance genres and Iranian dancers are gaining increasing attention among scholars and audiences in North America and Europe as Iranian dancers have begun to increasingly circulate among transnational dance circuits and social media over the past ten years. The strict regulation of dance in the Islamic Republic of Iran has also recently gained international media attention with the arrest of Iran’s “Happy Dancers” (seven men and women who produced a YouTube video dancing and lip singing to Pharrell Williams’ pop hit single, “Happy”) and with the American-produced film Desert Dancer (2014), an autobiographical drama that depicts the life of Iranian-born dancer Afshin Ghaffarian. Historically and today, dance in Iran and its diaspora has been a site for the projection and production of a wide range of ideologies and discourses, such as those surrounding: gender and sexuality, modernity, nationalism, religion/secularism, high art/low art, Orientalism and auto-Orientalism, cultural preservation, resistance, neoliberalism, immigration, and citizenship. This roundtable will feature a discussion with three scholars who have contributed to the growing yet understudied field of research on dance and dancers in/from Iran. Dr. Anthony Shay is a preeminent scholar on Iranian dance whose prolific research has been foundational to the field; his 1999 book Choreophobia: Solo Improvised Dance in the Iranian World is the first scholarly monograph on social and staged dance in the Iranian world, and has been invaluable to scholars and dancers alike. Dr. Ida Meftahi’s rigorous historiographical research on dance in twentieth and twenty-first century Iran is also a major contribution to the field, particularly her 2016 monograph Gender and Dance in Modern Iran: Biopolitics on Stage, which draws from a wide range of methodologies and archives to construct the most comprehensive view on dance in Iran to date. Dr. Heather Rastovac Akbarzadeh’s research builds on the work of these two scholars to analyze the politics of dance in the Iranian diaspora, particularly as they relate to the contemporary Euro-American geopolitics of neoliberalism, immigration, and citizenship. Each scholar will give a 15 minute overview of the breadth of their research, which will be followed by a 15 minute discussion between the three of them, and will end with a 30 minute audience Q&A.

*Dr. Anthony Shay will join the panel via Skype.

Following the roundtable, Iranian dancer-choreographer Aisan Hoss will perform as part of this event, followed by an audience Q&A, moderated by Heather Rastovac Akbarzadeh.


Dr. Anthony Shay serves as professor of dance and cultural studies in the Theatre and Dance Department of Pomona College in Claremont, CA. He took his PhD at UC Riverside in Dance History and Theory. He is the author of six monographs, the editor and co-editor of four anthologies on dance history and aspects of folk and traditional dance, as well as the author of over forty scholarly articles and encyclopedia entries. He was the co-founder, director, and choreographer for the AMAN Folk Ensemble, and founding artistic director of the AVAZ International Dance Theatre. He is one of the recipients of the coveted James Irvine Foundation Choreographic Fellows, an NEH Scholars Fellowship, an NEA Artist in Residence in La Napoule, France, and numerous fellowships for both his scholarly work and his choreographies from the NEA, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Ahmanson Foundation, among others.

Dr. Ida Meftahi is a visiting assistant professor of contemporary Iranian culture and society at the Roshan Institute for Persian Studies, University of Maryland. Her first book, Gender and Dance in Modern Iran: Biopolitics on Stage was published in 2016 (Routledge Iranian Studies Series). Her research has also appeared in Muslim Rap, Halal Soaps, and Revolutionary Theater: Artistic Developments in the Muslim Cultural Sphere (2011), Islam and Popular Arts (2016), Oxford Handbook of Dance and Ethnicity (2016), International Journal of Middle East Studies (2016), among others. She is currently working on her second manuscript, a spatial humanities reading of Tehran’s historic entertainment district, while directing the Lalehzar Digital Project, a component of the Roshan Initiative for Digital Humanities.

Dr. Heather Rastovac Akbarzadeh is the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Dance Studies in/and the Humanities in the Department of Theater and Performance Studies at Stanford University. She is the curator of the Stanford Colloquium on Dance Studies. She holds a PhD in performance studies from UC Berkeley (with a designated emphasis in women, gender, and sexuality) and a BA in Persian language and literature from the University of Washington. Drawing from 20 years as a dancer-choreographer among Iranian-American audiences, Heather’s research investigates the racialized and gendered economies of Iranian dance and performance art in transnational art markets and among diasporic audiences in North America and Western Europe. She is currently working on her first book manuscript about the politics of dance in the Iranian diaspora. Her forthcoming publications include a chapter in the Mellon Dance Studies anthology The Futures of Dance Studies, a chapter in Performing Iran: Cultural Identity and Theatrical Performance, and a commissioned book review in the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies.

Aisan Hoss, MFA. is a dancer and choreographer from Tehran, Iran. She began studying and performing Iranian dances at the age of twelve and teaching at the age of eighteen. After completing her BS in Iran, Hoss moved to London to pursue a career in contemporary dance and attended the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Contemporary Dance where she completed a one-year diploma in dance, followed by a BA in dance theatre. She emigrated to the United States in 2013 in order to obtain her MFA in dance and choreography at Mills College in Oakland, California. While at Mills, she received an E.L. Wiegand Foundation Innovator Award. For Hoss, dance and choreography have been a means for gaining insight into her identity as an Iranian living outside of Iran. Specifically, several of her choreographies have explored the ways in which having physical distance from her home country provides a deeper sense of intimacy with Iranian culture.

If you will attend, please RSVP here.

For more information about the Colloquium and this year’s speakers, visit:
The Stanford Colloquium on Dance Studies is sponsored by the Mellon “Dance Studies in/and the Humanities” initiative and is generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 2017-2018 co-sponsors include the Office of the Vice President for the Arts, Stanford Humanities Center, the Center for Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity, Stanford Global Studies, the Clayman Institute for Gender Research, the Department of Theater & Performance Studies, the Film & Media Studies Program - Department of Art History, Hamid and Christina Moghadam Program in Iranian Studies, and the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies.



Friday, May 18, 2018. 01:00 PM


Roble Gym 139, Roble Gym 113


Heather Rastovac Akbarzadeh,


Free and open to the public. For any accessibility needs, please contact Heather Rastovac Akbarzadeh. If you will attend, please RSVP here.