Iran bans Zumba, and its fans fume

Zumba, an aerobics dance class, has attracted a wide following. Iran has banned Zumba but in practice such activities are tolerated if they occur semi-hidden. (EMILY BERL/NYT)

June 17, 2017 – The Seattle Times – By Thomas ErdbrinkThe New York Times

TEHRAN, Iran — To those Iranians shaking their hips and backsides to Latin American music during Zumba exercise classes, Iran’s Muslim clerics — and a U.S. company — have the same message: Stop it. It’s illegal.

The country’s Zumba fans, however, are refusing to back down.

Iran has undergone a health revolution in recent years, with gyms and fitness clubs opening in many neighborhoods. Men lift weights to become buff; women sweat in aerobic classes to stay lean.

As in many countries, Zumba, an aerobics dance class, has attracted a wide following, especially among women who gather a couple of times a week to work out to upbeat tracks by singers like Ricky Martin and Shakira while losing weight.

“It’s fun. It’s positive,” said Sunny Nafisi, 33, a Zumba instructor who works in an upscale Tehran gym. But recent days haven’t been fun or positive, Nafisi admitted.

An edict issued this month by the head of the Sports for All Federation, a government institution promoting sports and a healthful lifestyle, effectively banned Zumba classes for being contrary to Islamic precepts.

Ever since, Nafisi’s phone has been buzzing with messages from depressed Zumba aficionados who feared their fitness parties, as some describe the classes, were canceled.

Even her mother-in-law called from California to ask if this was the end of Zumba in Iran. “Of course not,” Nafisi fumed. “Zumba will not be stopped.”

Gathering for fitness dancing is just one of many examples of the tensions between Iran’s changing middle-class society and those ruling the country.

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran’s Shiite Muslim clerics have codified into law hundreds of lifestyle regulations, meant to keep their flock on the right path. In their world, things like drinking alcohol, mixing between men and women, and dancing can lead to committing sins.

Sins can undermine families, the cornerstone of life in Iran, so it has been decided that these temptations, and many others, are illegal, as an extra push to make sure they do not happen.

But they do happen, because enforcement can go only so far in a society completely changed over the last 40 years. While prosecutions can result in fines or caning, they are not common, and Tuesday, thousands of men and women danced in the streets to celebrate the Iranian national soccer team’s earning of a spot in the World Cup.

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