Iran Bans Zumba, and Its Fans Fume

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

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

“It is as if they have legalized alcohol — everyone is talking about it,” Ms. Nafisi said, referring to the liquor ban in the country. Even her mother-in-law called from California to ask if this was the end of Zumba in Iran.

“Of course not,” Ms. Nafisi fumed. “Zumba will not be stopped.”

Coming together 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 even caning, they are not common, and on 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.

Today, many Iranians shrug off most of these sins, saying it should be up to individuals to decide if they commit any.

In practice, this means that popular but proscribed activities, including Zumba dancing, are often tolerated if they take place semi-hidden or under a different name.

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