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From Philadelphia to Tehran: Dance, the Great Connector

Updated: Aug 5, 2020

As a former Soviet citizen of the world and now a proud American, I have always believed that underneath all politics and stereotypes exists a basic human connection, one stronger than seems possible at times. It waits to be uncovered to those who seek it, even amongst the greatest perceived enemies. Amidst the global conflicts, many initiatives aim at reaching understanding through various apolitical activities, and I was always inspired by this idea –how courageous to see beyond, to refuse complacency of accepted divide and to question “what if the world was different?” I always hoped my dance would serve to enrich the world, build harmony and bring new experiences. And so our unlikely dance class was born.

Photo by Anna Li

It started with a chance meeting abroad, small talk about Shiraz (the only thing I could think to say in an attempt to win favor), and both parties open to staying in touch on social media, however limited. I soon discovered that J had family who take and teach dance classes back home in Iran. Well, at that point, the only natural thing to do was to get involved in any way possible, excited to learn, and exchange. And with the world in a virtual mindset, and our cordial greeting online, for me and dancer E it was a done deal...well kind of. The first step being to learn the time difference –Iran, it turns out, is all on one time table and 8.5 hours ahead of Philadelphia. Next, the challenge of teleporting without #Zoom, #Google Meets, #Facebook or any other commonly used platform, all banned in Iran. Thanks to a genius virtual contraption set up with two screens and a telephone, E ran a successful test. Then came the day – to say I was excited to teach this group of dancers is an understatement. I used my phone and music, and taught just like I would any other class. In a pandemic, thousands of miles apart, without a common language, class rituals or dance goals, we were in that moment united in something bigger than ourselves.

And it felt good. My clumsy attempts in the Farsi language, my counting “yek, do, se, chahar”, the entire absurdity of starting ballet at 8:30 in the morning, teaching to dancers taking a 5pm ballet barre – nothing could tarnish the thrill of speaking with movement to friends across the globe. It is a memory that will stay with me forever. Because above it all, we are people first, with the same desire for safety, happiness of those we love and the ability to do what brings us joy. We finished the class with a “reverence” and warm “Khodahafez!” (SEE VIDEO from class below.) And just like that, the day continued as normal an hour later. And I couldn’t help but think that whatever damage the media might do in the future, and whatever hatred may be promoted on either side, I hope that my new Persian friends will always remember the positive experience they had with me, and American citizen, just as I remember it, too: A dance class filled with love for ballet, and mutual respect and honor.

Some names and locations have been modified to protect the privacy of certain individuals.

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