Doing the Afghan Shuffle

When you think dance lessons, you think old people and salsa—not Iranians or the Afghan Shuffle, which sounds like something Cartman did on SouthPark.Which maybe explains why attendance for ballroom and, yes, salsa are higher than for the Middle Eastern dance lessons Reza Zargari teaches at A Global Rhythm Dance Studio in Huntington Beach.

“The only reaction I've gotten was one friend said, 'Do you think anyone will take it? Only Iranian people will take it,'” says Zargari, who is Iranian. Except that while Iranians he's talked to are glad he's teaching their native dance, they're not actually taking it.

But that's okay. Zargari, 23, is just glad to have his own studio, which opened in January. Before this, he taught for a major dance studio that shall remain nameless (it's the one in the song). And they made him change his name to Sam Sanders—probably 'cause it was easier for them to say. He offered to teach Middle Eastern dance there, but of course they didn't want it.

“They didn't really know how to market it,” he says. “With street dancing, they were the same way. They wanted you to focus more on dances like ballroom.” Ballroom's okay, but Middle Eastern is more in Zargari's wheelhouse. He takes traditional dances from Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan and tweaks the moves, cherry picking elements students can learn easily.

“Hip twists from belly dancing, things you would see in [Middle Eastern] nightclubs—it's all stuff you can use with any form of dancing,” he says. You can use such moves for the ever-popular Afghan Shuffle, the Iranian Basic, the Gher (Farsi for shakethatass)and the Arabic turn. Everybody's doing it: the Arabic Turn. Well, not really—but they aren't doing the Stone the Infidel, either.

“I would have expected to have a more negative reaction,” Zargari says, “but I actually have had a positive reaction. When people are wanting to learn dance, even if they're 50, they are pretty open to learning. People are getting more into belly dancing as well.” People who are 50 are open? To dance?

“The only negative reaction I've gotten,” he repeats, was from the aforementioned friend. Maybe that's because he knows well the first lesson they teach you at barber college: go easy on the politics.

“I used to be more political,” Zargari says, “but I realized that in order to make a difference, I have to make money first.” In the meantime, he says, “I'm going to do what I think I should do to help people to the best of my ability.” And right now, that's teaching his students to shimmy, roll their shoulders and do the Gher.

Besides, he laughs, “I'm a dance teacher, so I take everything pretty lightly.”


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