Armenian Dance heritage has been one of the oldest, richest and most varied in the Near East. From the fifth to the third millennia B.C., in the higher regions of Armenia, the land of Ararat, there are rock paintings of scenes of country dancing. These dances were probably accompanied by certain kinds of songs or musical instruments. In the fifth century Moses of Khoren (Moveses Khorenatsi) himself had heard of how the descendants of Aram (Armenians) make mention of these epic tales in ballads for the lyre and their songs and dances.
After the 1915 genocide which was carried by the Ottoman Empire in the western part of Armenia, a large part of the Armenian folkloric heritage disappeared for ever.
It is thanks to the efforts of Father Gomidas (Gomidas Vartabed), an important figure of musicology of the 19th and 20th century, that a big number of traditional musics survived, which brought about the particularity of Armenian music.
The destruction of most of the material culture has made it difficult to study the dance historically. Similarities in the poses found in Armenian dance with poses found on ancient Sumerian and Urartian artifacts have been cited as evidence of direct relationship. These similarities do suggest the continuity of certain motifs, but these motifs are also shared by neighboring ethnic groups. Most of the written records that have survived are ecclesiastically oriented (e.g. illuminated manuscripts), and make little mention of the dance. These writers were clerics who viewed the dance as pagan in origin and generally ignored or suppressed it. The references that do exist indicate that many Armenian dances were originally totemic, imitating animals or nature.
-Armenian dance has its roots in the celebration of life, death, and everyday pastoral tasks. The rural dances are executed in general in circle and are always danced from left to right (Atch) (Atchoghoutyun) except when a tragedy is represented in which case it goes from right to left (Tsakh) (Thakhoghoutyun) .These dances have the generic name of Tsakh Bar. For a long time, men and women have danced separately, each group alternating the other. But today that notion has diminished and women can take part in dances that were exclusively masculine. The circle represents the world revolving around the fire which procures light and life. This notion can be traced to the antiquity when dances were pagan rituals. These dances lost their sacred meaning when Armenia accepted Christianity as a state religion in the 3rd century AD.
The particularity of Armenian dance resides in the energy that is generated by the dancers and reaches the audience even in the slow movements.
Each region of historical Armenia has its own dance with its own characteristics: Dances of Van, Erzeroum, Moush, Sassoun, Bitlis, Yerevan, Gumri, Ardahan…..
Among the most popular dances are, Tamzara, Halay, Abarani Bar, , Kotchari, Pert Bar……….. and the list goes on.
The refined movements are reminiscent of the dances of the Armenian Kingdom, in the Middle Ages in Cilicia and passed in the popular repertoire of the Armenian people.
The historical and the geographical extent of historical Armenia explain the high diversity of the genres.
In the dances executed by the female dancers, the hands hold a particular significance. the fingers represent usually the Deer, a local animal of Armenia which symbolizes feminity. Hands closed and fingers open hiding or not part of the face express all the spectrum of feelings of the female soul without excluding a certain degree of coquetry . The walk is almost a glide , similar to the Georgian floating. The dances of the men are an affirmation of virility and male domination.
Having survived the Armenian Genocide of 1915, and after the collapse of the First Republic, Armenia was forcibly Sovietized. Freedom’s loss was ballet’s gain and a healthy and successful ballet tradition developed during that period. Yerevan’s ballet was considered by many to be one of the best in the former USSR after those in Leningrad and Moscow.
It can be noted that the Armenian dance requires a high degree of coordination of head, hand, arms and leg that move all in unison as opposed to the dances of the West and Central Europe where the upper body is neglected for the benefit of the legs, case in point: Irish Dance, or the more rigid Georgian Dances.
Costumes also vary from area to area, from traditional folk to traditional theatrics. The design of these costumes are influenced by many factors, such as religious traditions, family methods, practicality and foreign domination of a particular era. The traditional deep red color and exquisite beading of the costumes brings the dance and the tradition together.
Folklore, or traditional culture is in constant evolution, reflecting the sensibilities of the particular era.
Following the massacres and the deportations of 1915, the Armenians scattered to the four corners of the world and a wide Armenian Diaspora was created. Even in those hard days, the common denominator for all Armenians around the world was the preservation of the Armenian identity. Thus the Armenian traditional dance acquired new steps and measures and became the stylized traditional dance as we know it today.
In the coming weeks, we will try to inform you about the particularities of each dance and costumes of different ereas.