Elderly Man's Viral Dance Gets Pushback From Iran Officials

Authorities tried to nix Sadegh Bana Motejaded's 'happiness campaign,' but public balked
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 19, 2023 8:19 AM CST

An elderly man has become an "unlikely symbol of resistance" in Iran after his dance moves at a fish market went viral—and kicked off a wave of similarly dance-inspired protests that led to a temporary crackdown on his social media, reports the Independent. The 70-year-old known as "Uncle Sadegh" was recorded last month in the city of Rasht, jubilantly singing and dancing as others around him chanted the chorus of "ow, ow, ow, ow!," which the Financial Times notes is a "local word used to express excitement or surprise." Iranian clerics, however, weren't filled with the same kind of joy at seeing Sadegh Bana Motejaded's video, fearing it would lead to more widespread civil disobedience, so they took action.

First, police swooped in and arrested a dozen men who appeared in his viral video, took their social media accounts down, and yanked the video where they could find it online. A source tells the New York Times the men were beaten, warned they could face legal repercussions, and made to sign a pledge that they wouldn't pull a Footloose in public again. The source says Bana Motejaded, also known as Booghy (taken from the Persian word for megaphone), was detained as well, and officials shuttered his Instagram account, claiming he was violating Islamic norms. Those norms include a ban on public dancing, which is selectively enforced.

The crackdown on Booghy and others comes against the backdrop of Iran's recent uprisings, mostly led by women, that authorities have been trying to quash. None of this was met well by the general public, who then started posting their own videos to stand by Bana Motejaded. Soon, what the New York Times calls Bana Motejaded's "happiness campaign" started to spread, with people dancing "on the streets, in shops, at sport stadiums, in classrooms, malls, restaurants, gyms, parties, and everywhere else they congregate."

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"Joining this dance trend sends a strong message," DJ Mohammad Aghapour says. "It's a way of protesting and demanding our freedom and happiness." DJ Aghapour even created a remix of Booghy's original song, complete with beats. Officials soon backed off and brought back his Instagram, which now has more than 1 million followers; they also denied they ever arrested him. As for Booghy, he explains there's no nefarious explanation behind his joyousness. "I only want people to be happy and to change their mood," he recently told a local reporter. (More Iran stories.)

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