Afshin Ghaffarian, the secret dancer, and his flight to freedom

Adam Sage; 4/1/10

As the protesters lay blindfolded in an Iranian paramilitary van, blows rained down on them. One, however, was singled out for particular punishment. Afshin Ghaffarian’s identity papers described him as an actor, a profession that was not to the liking of the Basij militia commander in charge of the operation. “If you’re an artist we’ll beat you artistically,” he said.  What the commander did not know, and it would have sealed the 23-year-old’s fate if he had found out, was that acting was a cover. Ghaffarian is a dancer, and dancing is an activity banned by Iran’s Islamic rulers, punishable by long prison terms. “If he had known that he would have beaten me even harder,” Ghaffarian says. He recounted the incident that could have cost him his freedom, and perhaps his life, in an interview in Paris. His story illustrates the oppression under Iran’s regime, but also the courage and ingenuity of those opposing it. As a student in Tehran he would spend hours on his computer looking for videos of the West’s greatest contemporary dancers, such as the American Merce Cunningham, who died last year. “I had to do it because this was my inspiration, my ignition. I just wanted to explore new ways of expression and this was my only source of information,” he says.