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Dance for Khordadian

It is astonishing that a country should detain its top ghermeister

June 21, 2002
The Iranian

Three weeks ago I heard that the LA-based dancer and entertainer Mohamad Khordadian had been arrested on arrival at Mehrabad airport. Stuck for a reaction I decided only stupidity could have led him there - couldn't do anything about it so I blamed the victim. He is now counting his fingers in Evin prison and I am in my office during lunch-break trying to keep a grin off my face because England has lost to Brazil.

The other day, however, I learned that Khordadian had not gone to Iran because he had a death wish. It was his mother's funeral.

It is astonishing that a country that has allegedly undergone "reform" for the past five years should detain a man who is widely regarded as Iran's top ghermeister. Cheese merchants like Michael Flatley are feted in the West while our answer to Jane Fonda and Fred Astaire languishes in jail.

Had Khordadian stepped off the plane wiggling his bum, his arrest would have been understandable, if not justified. But he was doing no such thing. In fact he was probably exhausted, in need of a shower and scared of being ushered aside for a chat at passport control. (Even travellers who don't produce contraband dance videos fear this.) He returned home only to become an instant criminal - a particularly subversive one at that, with all his evil shuffling.

His detention is preposterous even by the Islamic Republic's immoral standards. It is also another nail in the coffin of the discredited president Khatami. A letter recently posted on Khordadian's website said, "Khatami is just another pimp like Khamenei".

It seems to take such events to make more pro-Khatami doofs realise what precious few people could see five years ago: that this so-called moderate's agenda was about the preservation of Islamic rule in Iran, not its demise. It also confirms that the business of making reparations with America was never about "dialogue between civilisations" so much as grunts between Neanderthals.

Khordadian's capture is almost comical in its absurdity: a regime that is threatened by a man wearing a belly-dance outfit is surely losing its touch. Paraded before an Islamic court, Khordadian claimed that his videos were intended to promote fitness, not dance. (More convincing would have been to say they were staff-coaching tapes for Burger King.)

Information about his situation remains scant, though it has been reported that he has been charged with "corrupting" the mind of youths. So it is not poverty, drugs and sexual frustration that blight the lives of the millions of young Iranians who live outside north Tehran's privilege cells, but a dancer who's only real crime was the Afro he sported at the age of sixteen.

Khordadian, like most of his peers, should have been arrested in the seventies on fashion grounds, not now as a dancer. None of the photos in my extended family album come close to the Jim Kelly-inspired hairdo below (Kelly, for those who've never owned a VCR, was the guy who was dipped in acid in Enter the Dragon).

You see, Khordadian is an Iranian through and through: he is that uncle who would burst into fits of break-dancing at mehmoonies in the eighties.

While cultural snobs sniffed at his antics, he developed a following among children and housewives who aped his moves in front of television sets and secured his place in our imagination as the lord of the Persian dance.

His hip-rotations have also made him something of a revolutionary - one suspects that dance is only part of why he has been nabbed. Khordadian's distinctly camp and kitsch performances have led many to speculate about his sexuality and watching him may have prompted certain clerics to question their own. Latent sex appeal, I think it's called. should start a campaign of solidarity with Mohamad Khordadian to remind us that Iran still has a judicial system that is as brutal and ridiculous as its president. We should organise demonstrations outside Iranian consulates around the world, demanding his freedom. I'll bring the ghetto-blaster, you bring the CDs. With the spirit of Chubby Checker's Twist, let's Gher.

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By Peyvand Khorsandi

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