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Dance and Non-Dance: Patterned Movement in Iran and Islam
Pomona Faculty Publications and Research
  • Anthony Shay, Pomona College
Document Type
Publication Date
  • patterned movement,
  • Iran,
  • Islam,
  • dance,
  • non-dance
Much scholarly ink has been spilled over the question of what constitutes dance in different societies. Several attempts have been made to create a universal category for dance that would enable dance scholars to transcend this fundamental question and get down to the business of conducting research, secure in the knowledge that all of their colleagues understand the basic definitions of "dance." None of the current definitions takes into account dance and dance events in societies such as those of the Islamic areas of the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa where the term for dance (usually the Arabic word raqs) can possibly bear powerfully negative or, at least, ambiguous connotations. While dance, and a word to denote that activity, exists and we can perhaps come to an agreement over what constitutes dance, an even more crucial issue is what dance is not an Islamic environment. This question is important because many activities in which the participants perform patterned movements are devotional or spiritual in their own view, while some observers from outside—and sometimes inside—the society unquestioningly term this type of activity dance because it is patterned, rhythmical movement. This paper will address this issue and argue for the viewpoint that dance scholars need to consider native categories to identify what constitutes dance and what constitutes other kinds of patterned movement in Islamic societies.
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© 1995 Informa UK Limited, an Informa Group Company
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Citation Information
Shay, Anthony. “Dance and Non-Dance: Patterned Movement in Iran and Islam,” Iranian Studies 28, no. 1, 2 (Winter/Spring, 1995), pp. 61-78. doi: 10.1080/00210869508701830