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Iran Hard-Liners' New Headache: Dancing Schoolchildren

Risking prosecution, Iranians dance to Happy by Pharrell Williams.

Iran is facing a major crisis: Its kids enjoy frolicking to banned music despite years of state indoctrination and denunciation.

Amateur video posted online showing Iranian schoolchildren dancing to a song by a U.S.-based underground rap singer has angered conservatives.

The critics include a deputy speaker of parliament, Ali Motahari, who has said the schools' principals should be fired and the education minister held accountable.

Domestic media reported that the dancing appeared to have been part of recent Teachers' Day celebrations at schools across the country.

In the clips, mostly divided classes of girls and boys dance to the hit song Gentleman by U.S.-based Sassan Heydari-Yafteh, who also goes by the names Sasy or Sasy Mankan.

Sasy posted several of the videos on Instagram for his 2 million-plus followers and challenged Motahari to listen without dancing himself.

The singer also appeared to suggest that with the country facing a crashing national currency and rising prices, the lawmaker should have better things to do than to condemn pop music.

"But seriously, seriously, you left the dollar, meat, high prices...and decided about Gentleman?" Sasy wrote on Instagram.

Iranian officials and state-controlled media appear to suggest that such dancing to "vulgar" music was part of a plot by Iran's enemies to undermine the Islamic republic’s religious values.

'Pre-Designed Plan'

Absas Kaabi, a member of the Assembly of Experts that is tasked with supervising the work of Iran's supreme leader and choosing the next one, said he has asked a morality enforcement body to intervene and filed a judicial complaint against the schools and state bodies in question.

Kaabi said the dancing was a "pre-designed plan" aimed at weakening Iranian morals and countering spiritual and religious values.

The hard-line daily Kayhan meanwhile cited "anticultural" activities in schools that it said were part of a "poisoned and dangerous puzzle" targeting the "cultural and religious roots" of Iranian society.

The hard-line Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), also expressed concern over the videos of school kids dancing and having fun in a piece titled What Is Sasy Doing In Our Schools?

"At first glance, seeing children's joy brings joy. But when we look carefully at what they're shouting in unison, we feel ashamed and concerned for an education system that has no oversight over these issues," Fars wrote.

Fifty-one student Basij groups also condemned the dancing in schools while calling on the Education Ministry to identify and act against the directors of the schools that allowed the dancing to take place.

"How did the attitudes and beliefs of the students and children of this land become infected with these anti-Islamic and immoral thoughts and improper behaviors?" the groups asked in a statement published by Iranian media.

Education Minister Mohammad Bathaei suggested that a plot was behind the dance videos.

'Our Children Like To Be Happy'

Bathaei said he had tasked three "experts" with investigating the issue and said he hoped the country’s cyberpolice would help.

"I believe there are political motives behind the incident -- the enemies want to undermine people's trust in schools," Bathaei was quoted as saying by the hard-line Tasnim news agency.

Some Iranians on social media criticized Motahari and others who had spoken out against the dance videos.

"Society is not separate from schools. Our children like to be happy and they definitely listen to this music in their homes," teachers' rights activist Mehdi Bohlouli told the reformist Shargh daily.

Last year, Iran detained a young woman who had posted her dance videos on Instagram.

In 2014, six men and women were detained for dancing in a YouTube video to the Pharrell Williams song Happy.

The three men and three women were later sentenced to suspended jail time and lashes.

Iran's leadership has routinely arrested or harassed Iranians for attending parties, mingling with members of the opposite sex, and other activities that are taken for granted in many other countries.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is the author of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.