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Naira Kilichyan

The Armenian dance in contemporary society.

Kilichyan, Naira: “The Armenian dance in contemporary society”, 13th International Congress on Dance Research, Athens, 7-11/7,1999.


We gave particular attention to study of three cultural spheres - popular dance, dance education and staging dance - elucidating the questions: place, role and diffusion of Armenian traditional dance in contemporary society and going whole reproduce dance culture.

Nowadays, Armenian society is appearing in transitional period of political and social-economic reforms, characterized by inevitable changes of cultural spheres, as well as achievements and losses. The question in this situation is, how is the concrete dance culture changing and what is the society attitude on the national dance. Our ethnographical and sociological investigations in this area have discovered the following:

1. Popular dance

Armenian ethnochoreologists have recorded peasant and urban dance folklore for many years and ascertained their place, spreading and significance in the different provinces and towns of Armenia. Nowadays rural population has hard losses conducted with social-economic conditions and emigration. Nevertheless, traditions are still alive in many regions - Talin, Ararat valley, Gyumri - and people continue dancing traditional dances in annual feasts, weddings and other gatherings.

The situation is different among urban population, where impetuous changes have more vivid expressions.The dance style, which have been formed in urban enviroment for last ten years is established and spreaded with typical movements and stylistic peculiarities,today.The urban dance folklore is performed everywhere-in popular feasts, weddings, family or youth gatherings.

That dances have not any marked appelation.The informants usually call these simply ''Armenian feast dances'', as well as the musicians call - ''Armenian jovial dance musics or Armenian dances''. In spite of this, some musicians of this genre inevented different names for this arrangings of folk compositions: Dance of Tatul, Dance of Yegish, Dance of Nork, etc., named this way by more popular singers.In fact, there are Armenian folk melodies, in fast, cheerful tempo and weddings' or Caucasian dances.

In general, music bands consisted of clarinet, zurna, drum and accodion perform these dance musics.Now, bands are replenished with modern musical instruments,-syntezator, electronic guitar, percussion instruments. More often, these dance musics they spread by records, for "the alive music is expensive pleasure, today" - as the people says.

Popular feast dances are accomplished by all people, without age and gender limitation. Actually, the movements' tempo and character is a little changed,connected with age of performer, but no stylistic peculiarities. Nevertheless, young and mature-age men perform these dances more often, because fast tempo and technique of movements is not always possible to carry away by elderly men.

Also, the young and mature-age women's dances are characteristic and those of elderly women are very seldom. Popular feast dances are spreaded in various strata of society and their performance usually characterize the culmination of the feast.Since it maybe youth party or discoteques, where the participants prefer modern American, European or Russian dance styles and musics, the performance of popular dances included in its dance programm, too.

Armenian folk dance had been basically group dance. [Lisitsyan 1958:49-60].Today Armenian dance is group one done by individuals and has improvisation character in context of main movements.

Free changes of dancers are visible in couple even in case if couples consist of woman and man. They can be obliterated involuntary and continue dancing as a performance of individuals made in collective form.

In populous feasts the dancers often are divided into round groups. They let single or couple of dancers in the middle of round and latters dictate sequence of movements. If solo or couple dancers are show high mastery of participants technique and performing, the group dance gradually becames passive and continue to encourage the dancers with impetuous claps and exclamations. So, the dancer-participants became audience themselves and opened place for good dancer.

The reflection of social thinking on public dance is evident and characterized by involuntary manifestation of national mentality, too. It is emphasized especially,when the participants consist round hand by hand or shoulder by shoulder and initiative single or several dancers jump like an Armenian traditional dance Ver-very. Then the group is obliterated again and continue dancing as initially.Such kind of subconscious dance structure remains as manifestation of national thinking and style, existing by internal regularities, irrespective of all external stimuli.

Indicative of that is also existance of play-competition during the dance. Not only solo dancers, but also dancers' groups begin competition by dance. We recorded the following versions of play-competitions:between girl and girl,boy and boy as well as mixed couples of girl-boy or woman-man. The following devisions is observed among of groups:young and elderly, good and bad dancers. The gests of bride and thats of bridegroom in weddings are divided into properties and non-properties. That is to say, the people are divided into groups as on age or gender properties, so on to nowadays social model. This phenomenon rests on national traditions, remaining actual the same time. The best dancer is chosen during this dance-competitions, who begins leading subsequence of dances.

The kinetic text of Armenian popular dances

This dances are marked with various movements and improvisation of dancers.Thairs style is characterized by the following main movements:

a) Feet movements.

Variable steps, small movements at the same place - known in Armenian as "manruck" - bend one's knees in combination with step and join, different jumpings,rotations,half squattings with dance steps.

2 Hands movements

Rotation of hands in the second and third poses of the hands, especially over head,claps,finger snap. The mature-aged and elderly dancers do not raise theirs hands very much. More typical for female dances are gracful movements of hands, rotation of wrists, small steps at the same place and turnings. Feet movements of men are more emphasized and hands-- restrained a little. Even though women imitate dance movements of men, recently. Probably, it is displays the alteration of the women's place and role, as well as the process of emancipation in our society.

For kinetic text of this dances are typical various passages, turnings and changings of dancers. The performers copy movements from staging dances. Mainly, these are elements lovely and spreading dances, possessed from repertoire of professional companies. Popular feast dances they dance very long, until musicians and dancers get tired. Now, they are spread in several country-sides too.

Typical for genre of popular feast dances are various combinations of native and different dances and styles, e.g. Greek dances, especially Sirtaki, Jewish Hava nagila, Sem sorok, Caucasian Lezghinka, Kintauri, Baghdaduri, Ghazakhi, which are especially very popular in music bands' repertoires. Mainly, that dances are performed by individuals, whose performing mastery is quite limited within several movements. Popular Waltz, Tango and following modern dances,- Lambada, Break-dance, Macarena, Rep, etc., must be added to this schedule as ones for youth only.

2. Dance education

Nowaday, the sphere of dance education is one of the mass and active trends of Armenian educational system. There are some of its intensity. Passage to the system of paid education is one of them. The education has been under the state patronage in Soviet times. Today this system is being reconstructed and existed together with private sector. Number of children private dance groups and studios emerge in Armenia, day by day. According to that, the trends of dance education became more different. These are:

a} modern dances

b} Armenian folk staging dances

c} ball dances

d} classical dances

Of course, modern dances are primary in this trends.Second position get Armenian and ball dances and classical ones take the lattest positions. The unique in ArmeniaDanceCollege continues the teaching traditions of classical ballet. Classical exercise is used in dance education now, as an experienced system of traning for staging groups, mainly. Last years, children learn popular dances, especially in private dance groups and studios.

In 1997-1999 sociological inquiries have been carried out in urban environment, among more than 500 children of 9-15 age.[ Kilichyan 1997-1999]. They realized the following: 40% of them doesn't know Armenia dance, genre of Popular feast dance is familiar to 35% and is called in different names, as feast or fast dance,usual or simple dance or after singers of that genre - dances by Aram, Ashot, Tatul and so on. The children consider to know Armenian dances, but to do without their names. 17% of them call as Armenian dance staging ones spread for last year, as are Berd, Enzely, Suserov par, Ashtarack, Sevani,etc.. Only 15% of children indicates two real traditional dances-- Kochari and Ver-veri as Armenian ones.

Few children know other traditional dances, including thats, who came from villages or danced in traditional dance groups for a time. Nobody of them notes any Armenian traditional dance learned of parents. The children watch and mainly learn Popular feast dances, which are

the only Armwnian ones as they imagine. Show of traditional dances are surprising and interesting ones for them like an original phenomenon.

The next trend of mentioned sociological inquiries intended to clarify attitude of children

on different kinds of dance art. To question, what kind of dance do you like, 70% of them answered- the Armenian, 80% - modern and 48% - ballet. Of course, their interest to the Armenian dance is limited within genre of popular dance. In case of classical dance there are interesed in aesthetic aspect only. Real area of their interests include various modern dances, which are regulary renewed and satisfy everyday interest of generation, thanks to the abundance of audio-vodeo information. They are not interested even in dances spread 1-2 yars ago, sa Lambada, Break-dance,Macarena. As to the sphere of dance education it respectively influence on the staging dance.

3. Stage dance

Nowadays several professional state dance groups exist in Armenia, depeneded of state budget. Some of them are resistant as ArmenianState Dance-and 'Barecamutyun' world-people dance ensembles. The activity of amateur dance groups is irregular and is limited by participation to the International folk festivals, mainly.

The dance repertoire of professional and amateur dance ensembles consists of various arrangings of traditional dances, on a large scale subject dance suites and urban folk solo dances. Some dances of 1950-60 es have been preserved on the stage till now,-Berd, Enzeli, Shalakho, Zurni trngi, Uzundara, Kintoneri par and so on-and consist the main part of dance repertoires.

Up to date changes in society reflect on the subject dance suites, which are spread especially on the stage dance. These are dedicated to country last memorable events. For example: staging reflecting subject of big earthquake in Armenia, in 1988. Though they have different titles, but do the same contents - catastrophe, suffering of people and revival. The same idea of revival is developed on the staging range concerning Independent Armenia. These are 'Mother Armenia', 'To Armenia', 'Armenian world', etc.

The theme of Gharabakh struggle became another subject for stage art. The following dances are being staged connected to this: “Artsakh girls”, “Gharabakh”, “Battle”, “After battle”. This genre of martial dances has connection with idea of Independent Armenia. Martial dances are accompanied by instrumental music and are interlaced with modern, folk melodies and patriotic songs. The kinetic text of that dances is contemporary synthesis, too. There are movements of traditional martial dances combined with classical and modern dance elements.

Genre of popular dance is existent in scenes of victory. The costume of martial dances is combination, too. It is battle grey military uniform added with elements of traditional costume, which emphasize in such a way national character of dance.

The symbolism is typical for subject dance suits. There are three- colored national flag, Mountain Ararat, unquenchable fire and Christian cross. In 2001, Armenia celebrates 1700- years Anniversary of adoption Christianity in Armenia and dance culture also takes part in this.

Small number of traditional song and dance groups continue to exist, having in their repertoire arrangings of traditional songs, dances, plays and rites. The modern staging groups are not very much, too. Modern dances are more spread in everyday life and dance education, than on the stage.


So, up to date Armenian dance culture carried marked changes parallel to social reconstruction. Interest of society is passive to the traditional dances. Cultural information does not contribute to appreciation and spreading of real national values in dance sphere. Interest in more active to the genres of popular and modern dances. It begins to enter not only into towns, but also different regions of Armenia.

The chain of alive transmission of traditional dances from generation to generation is interrupted. Today the youth is not the direct bearer of Armenian dance culture. Sphere of dance education deepens the breach and suggests the same popular and modern genres of dances, as required by society.

Genre of popular dance as a continuity of dance education transposes to the staging dance. The audience likes that. That is why they watch on the stage popular Armenian dances familiar to their taste, instead of traditional culture.

Finally, an endless circle is being formed: popular dance culture, dance education and staging dance. So, traditional dance is pushed away gradually from circulation and the popular one dominates in culture.

Periods of Armenian dance culture have been known with passive attitude of society to the traditional culture. The Armenian society have a similar period in the end of the 20th century. The historical regularity to inevitable changes and the new is matured in depth of seeming lose. Existing of Armenian traditional dance is an expression of such a historical process.


Lisitsyan, S.: Armenian old dances and theatre. v. 1. Yerevan, 1958.

Kilichyan, N.: Sociological inquiries. Dance archives of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography. Yerevan, 1997-1999.

Naira Kilichyan, Doctor of Arts

Institute Archaeology and Ethnography





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