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Ballerina uses her art to express solidarity with those fighting for rights in Iran


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Amna Nawaz: Since anti-government protests erupted in Iran last year, people around the world have taken to social media to show their support.

That includes an Iranian American ballerina who's tapping into her own heritage and her art, in solidarity with those pushing for more rights.

The "NewsHour"'s Julia Griffin reports for our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Julia Griffin: Tutus and tiaras, penches and pirouettes, Tara Ghassemieh's Instagram feed is filled with athletic feats of grace befitting a professional ballerina.

But, in the past year, her posts have also included advocacy. Like these fouette turns. The high bar normally set in the ballet world is to perform 32 in a row, as iconically danced by the black swan in the classic ballet "Swan Lake."

Ghassemieh posted herself executing 50 to mark what was at the time 50 days of protests in Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the country's so-called morality police.

Tara Ghassemieh, Principal Dancer, Golden State Ballet: Knowing that social media has literally been the driving force in bringing awareness to what is going on in Iran, I needed to do my part.

Julia Griffin: Ghassemieh feels that need because she herself is half Persian, born in California to an American mother and Iranian father who left the country shortly before the 1979 revolution.

Now Ghassemieh, who performs with Golden State Ballet in Southern California, says she is the first Iranian-American principal dancer in the U.S.

Tara Ghassemieh: To be the first Iranian-American principal dancer, as it is an honor, is actually a big sadness for me, because why I am the first is due to dictatorship and suppression of men and women and the fact that they are not given the freedom of artistic expression.

Julia Griffin: Following the revolution, Western forms of art, like classical ballet, were banned in Iran, which makes Ghassemieh's passion a liability.

Tara Ghassemieh: My dad never let me go to Iran. I was too well-known of a ballerina. And so that's really heartbreaking for me, because that's the only place I really want to be.

Julia Griffin: The strict artistic restrictions implemented after the revolution also led to the disbanding of the Iranian National Ballet, a fact she herself only discovered five years ago.

Tara Ghassemieh: I realized, wait a minute, they were the biggest ballet company in the Middle East for 20 years. And then another moment, oh, my God, they were exiled from Iran for being a ballet dancer.

Julia Griffin: Using the hashtag #DanceforIran, she dedicates posts to and amplifying posts of Iranians arrested or missing for removing hijabs, dancing in the streets, and other acts of defiance and self-expression, like these teenagers in Ekbatan, Iran, who were arrested and forced to apologize for their now viral video dancing in Western clothing without hijabs.

Tara Ghassemieh: I had to scream in a pillow because I just didn't know what else to do with that kind of frustration and pain and just rage.

And so the only thing I could do was do their dance. That was it. Do a little bit of improv for myself in there, because I'm not as good as them, just to do it in pointe shoes. If we're all artists, all co-creating, this is about being able to just express your being freely, to be able to express who you are in a free world.

And because my choice of expression is ballet, I'm using that medium to get that message across.

Julia Griffin: For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Julia Griffin.

Geoff Bennett: And, online, you can learn more about Ghassemieh's work, including a film she produced paying tribute to the Iranian National Ballet. That is at

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