Six Countries Where It's Illegal To Dance

Let's just say Baby could do worse than the corner.

It's not just the fictional town of Bomont, Oklahoma, that has a problem with dancing. Outside the silly world of "Footloose," the world's "only pure art form," in the words of a wise cartoon beagle, inspires intense legislation, black-market lechery, and even murder. In the wake of the news that Japan will finally lift its more than 50-year ban on public dancing next year, we've compiled a brief anthology of other countries where dance is a crime.


Japan's dance ban has been on the books since the 1940s, when nightclubs operating in the country's postwar haze turned into hotbeds for prostitution. Since then, it's gone through phases of intensity. In the late 20th century, the police often turned a blind eye to dancing after midnight (illegal under the law), and dance clubs without licenses (equally illegit). Of late, celebrity drug scandals and youth violence have led to numerous late-night raids, as the law has surged back into enforcement.

Luckily for Japan's rug-cutters, the upcoming 2020 Olympics in Tokyo have the government scrambling to prove the country is a fun place to be. (A move reminiscent to when R. Kelly wrote that song about all the mysterious haters who thought he'd never sing again, in the process introducing an idea we'd never entertained in the first place.) No matter; a petition with thousands of signatures led to the historic decision last month to repeal the dreaded dance ban. So ... Japan is fun, guys! Believe the hype!


Garth Algar and Wayne Campbell need not apply for Kuwait visas. The Arab country takes a strict view toward dancing in public, with detailed rules when it comes to concert behavior in particular. Forget head-banging -- barely any movement is allowed at a show, beyond clapping one's hands and swaying.

Critics say the law is a symptom of the tightening grip of hardline Islamism, unreflective of the country's past. The most prominent of them, a member of Kuwait's parliament, Nabil al-Fadhl, is currently fighting to legalize the sale of alcohol in the country as well. Because nothing fuels concert moves better than booze.


Afghanistan's relationship with dance wasn't always so troubled. Historians believe that as early as 2000 B.C., Pashtun tribespeople were dancing what would come to be known as the attan, a close cousin to north India's garba raas, full of rhythmic drum work and spinning dresses. The whirling dervishes made famous by Sufi practitioners also owe their heritage to the landlocked region -- the famous 13th-century Persian poet Rumi, composer of so many of the verses dervishes spin to even today, was born in Balkh, now a part of modern-day Afghanistan.

But in recent times, the only news to do with dance in the country is horrific. In 2012, Taliban insurgents beheaded 17 revelers at a party in southern Afganistan, due to the fact -- said one government official -- that they were listening to music and dancing. Elsewhere, young boys are entrapped in the custom of bacha bazi -- literally "boy for play" -- made to dance at private parties for men who've taken the young performers from often abusive homes. In a country where dance could surely be therapeutic, the art form's current state is just one more tragedy.


Iran's views on dance became more notorious last year with the release of "Desert Dancer," a biopic dramatizing the life of the Iranian dancer Afshin Ghaffarian, and co-starring Freida Pinto (in the sweet black outfit above).

Ghaffarian's story is a dramatic vessel to tell the larger one of the law, which disallows women from dancing in public, co-ed dancing, and flesh-baring costumes. The restrictions are at odds with Iran's recent history as a cultural center, home not so long ago to the Middle East's most celebrated ballet company.

The tide changed in the 1970s with the Iranian revolution; now experimental dancers are lucky if they can escape as Ghaffarian did. The Iranian national fled to Europe where he tours today -- but in interviews, he says he hopes someday to be allowed back home.


Not that Europe is all fun and games. For decades, towns across Germany have done their best Bomont, Oklahoma, impressions every Easter weekend. A much-debated nationwide law prohibits dance out of respect for the holiday's religious significance, and while states exercise the ban differently, all 16 of Germany's states follow it to some degree -- with some prohibiting public displays of music as well.

Even Berlin, home of das famous clüblyfe, cracks down. For a law so at odds with the popular image of the country's wild side, it's perhaps inevitable that it's spawned an "SNL"-worthy counter movement. A group called the Pirate Party attempts to topple the legislation each year -- protesting by dancing, naturally.


In the otherwise progressive haven of Sweden, public dancing is prohibited no matter the season. Bars, clubs and restaurants require a license to enable patrons to dance -- an activity officials insist leads to chaos. Even "moving your feet to music" is considered illegal, according to the Daily Mail. As in Germany, the ban is considered more an anachronism than a true threat to would-be dancers. No surprise, Sweden's got its own version of the Pirate Party, only their "dance demonstrations" go year-round.