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Naira Kilichyan

Dance education in Armenia.

Kilichian, Naira (Armenia): "The all-Armenian dance Kotsari. Cultural parallelisms", 18th International Congress on Dance Research, Argos, 3-7/11, 2004.

This paper outlines the main trends of the origin, formation and development of Armenian dance education. The material is discussed using historical data and compared with informative and sociological observations about dance education today. The topic has been studied for several years, with a parallel investigation into Armenian dance history.

Historical review

Dances are often mentioned in Armenian and foreign sources, where the dance is introduced from various aspects - as a ritual, mundane phenomenon or means of body training. In ancient times the younger generation became acquainted with the material and spiritual culture of community by initiations. Theatrical and dance performances, with dances, songs and appropriate accessories, maintained the preservation and transmission of the traditions and ideology of the community. [1]

In later periods of Armenian culture the most important influences were the age societies, which continued preserving traditions and education. Such societies functioned in the regions Vaspurakan, Taron, Djavakhk, Artik, until the end of 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. The societies comprised people of the same age - young girls, boys, married women and men, and elderly women and men [2]. Every society had its own meeting place, rules and obligations.

There were special Partun or Khaghtun (dance houses), where on Shrovetide evenings the people danced Hasarakats parer (public dances). In summer they gathered and danced in village squares or in threshing places for wheat. The young girls and women gathered for sohbat (chat) and afterwards danced solo and couple dances. The young men, the so-called azabs (free, unmarried), gathered in oda or otach (special houses). Those places were called azabneri oda (houses of free man). In the village Horom of Artik region only men 15-35 years old had the right to participate in azabneri oda. The union of azabs (union of free young men) undertook the organization of all wedding ceremonies and other different celebrations in the community.

The age societies kept the characteristic lines of past rites, except of their mundane function. Writing and oral sources testify that the age societies were the custodians of rites, epic and lyrical dance and theatrical performances. The phenomenon of traditional dance as a whole (dance structure, range of dancers, dance leader, the last dancer, etc.) reflects the structure of society. The teaching of dances was always an important factor with adults, and particularly with children. It was a means of education, body training and socialization, by which children perceived and assimilated adults' norms of behaviour. During public folk dancing in Armenia, as a rule, bad dancers had to place themselves either in an outer dance line, or were excluded altogether. Good dancers were acknowledged as honorable members of society, and they took central position in the dancing.

Until the early 20th century, the Armenian culture was mainly focused in the urban centers of two regions: the cities of Tiflis and Baku in the Caucasus, and the cities of Constantinople and Izmir in Asia Minor. In 1968 the Armenian choreographer Yeranos Chaprast founded a ballroom dance school in Constantinople. Later he has schools in Izmir and Adana [3].

In Tiflis in 1917 Srbuhi and Leon Hazarapetyan has opened the studio ''Declamation, Rhythm and Plastic'', which was later reconstructed as an Institute of Rhythm and Plastic. The greatest initiative has been shown by the famous Armenian ethnochoreologist Srbuhi Lisitsyan. In Berlin and Moscow she has studied the main trends of rhythm and plastic by Z. Dalkroz, F. Delsart, A. Duncan. In the institute S. Lisitsyan has taught by the system of F. Delsart, by her own practical arrangement. They also taught Caucasian urban folk dances, such as Shalacho, Naz par, Baghdagyuli, Kintauri, etc. The students gained high school diplomas and went on to teach in the towns of Tiflis, Yerevan, Kirovakan and Baku.

In the 1920s the dance studio of S. Kevorkov functioned in Baku, and the dance schools of S. Mchitaryan and V. Avedikov functioned in Yerevan at the same time. They danced Armenian and Caucasian dances, such as Mirzayi, Lekuri, Tarakyama, Uzundara, Shalacho, Enzeli, etc. [4]

In the 1920-1930 dance education made progress in Armenia. Different dance studios opened for Caucasian, Armenian, European, Oriental, Rhythm and Plastic and Classical dances. That period of Armenian dance is known as a period of Studio Movement. The main studios were those of S. Lisitsyan, V. Aristakesyan and A. Durinyan.

In 1930 in Yerevan the Studio of Rhythm and Plastic opened, which in 1936 was reconstructed as the Dance College of Yerevan (Director S. Lisitsyan) [5]. In the College were taught Classical, Armenian dances and dance in character. S. Lisitsyan collected and recorded the Armenian dances from the different regions of Armenia: Shatach, Sasun Alashkert, Gyumri, Lori. They presented dances such as Mamr, Dngo, Chol maydan, Yar Khushta, Zdiaven, Lutki, Papuri, Tsolaki, Oyik-Moyik, Kurkutic, Krdan-Kzi, etc.

Different dances were taught in the studios of the famous choreographer V. Aristakesyan. These were particularly the dances of West Armenian refugees, which were new to Eastern Armenians - Kertsi, Trachagh, Unus, Djaniman, Tamzara, Papuri, Krnki, etc. In the 1930s the studio of A. Durinyan was famous too.

During the above-mentioned periods dance education schools established new trends of dance teaching, which made further progress in the 1950s in amateur and boy-scouts dance groups. As well as the Caucasian and Armenian dances, different national dances are also staged.

In 1970-1980 when the national dance movement spread again, some new children's traditional dance groups were established: "Zoravar Andranik", "Gorani", "Haykazunk", etc. In spite of new dance trends, those groups kept the tradition of Armenian dance and song.

At the end of the 20th century the Studio Movement was again active. Many studios opened, where contemporary, ballroom or sport, rap-pop, and step dances were taught.

The present situation of dance education

Today in Armenia there are new cultural developments in parallel with political and social changes. The area of education has made noticeable progress, and dance education especially. Many dance schools and studios have opened. The studios of the Yerevan A. Spendiaryan National Theater Opera and Ballet, State Dance Company, and studios led by S. Devoyan, A. Zakaryan, and G. Markosyan are famous.

The Yerevan Dance College is well known in the field of professional dance education. Ballet and folk stage dance artists are trained there. In 1999 the College celebrated its 75th anniversary. The students do not only dance on the stage of the Yerevan A. Spendiaryan National Theater Opera and Ballet, but also on well known stages of Europe. Last years the students from the College Tigran Mikayelyan and Arsen Mehrabyan won the first prizes in the Lozan Young Artists International Ballet Competitions.

There are dance departments in several state and private universities, such as the Dance Department of the Yerevan State Pedagogical University and the Yerevan State Theatrical Institute, where students are trained to become choreographers and dance teachers.

The basic dance teaching programmes are always being improved by new, experimental methods, according to the demands of time.

Since 1996 in studio of S. Devoyan has been teaching the new subject "Dance Introduction". The children are learning the dance terminology and becoming acquainted with dance history by means of different games. The teaching is combined with the showing of dance iconography, which helps the children to remember the subject better. This kind of knowledge is very important for professional dancers.

This course helps to improve the taste and activation of students. It develops the imagination, attention, skilfulness and coordination of movements. The course has a special part devoted to Armenian folk dances, so the children get that important information too. The subject effectively combines with the practical aspect of dance teaching and results are more vital. Those students, who have good estimates in the course, learn and dance better.

There is another experimental method, which started in 1998 in Yerevan Nor Nork Hayordats Tun (children's house) with the children's song and dance company ''Haykazunk'' (directed by G. Grigoryan, N. Kilichyan). The children learn not only the traditional songs and dances, but also some theatrical forms and games, which are decorated with appropriate costumes and make-up. So, the learning of national dances and songs becomes more interesting for children.

During the years 1998-2001 there have been some investigations in the dance education area and sociological inquiries particularly among the thousand children of 6-17 years old (look the scheme). The first three questions (1. Do you like Armenian dance? 2. Do you like contemporary dance? 3. Do you like classical dance?) were intended to reveal their main preferences. According to these inquiries the majority of them prefer contemporary dances (the dances with American and European musical rhythms and gymnastic movements). Many of them like the Armenian dances, but the results of fourth question (Which Armenian dances do you know?) infer that more than 30% of them do not know any Armenian dance. The others who like Armenian mean the present urban folk dances with free, improvisation movements and stage dances, which they see in dance halls and on TV, or learn in studios. Only 14.6% of them not only like, but also know, the Armenian dances. These children have learned from parents or have participated in traditional dance companies.

So, if the children like, but don't know Armenian dance, it is not connected with preference, but the deficiency of education and information. Nobody now denies the role of contemporary dances, but this trend takes now more importance than it should do. Young people don't seem interested in classical dance either; maybe this too is connected with a deficiency of information, culture and taste.

The Armenian nation has a rich dance art, which has been transformed by generations. The development of culture has always been an important part of education. That is why the present dance education system is so widespread, characterized by experimentation, new trends and styles, as well as the preservation of traditional dances.


[1] S. Lisitsyan, The old Armenian Dances and Theatrical Performances, Armenian National Academy of Sciences Press, Yerevan, v. 1, 1958 (in Russian).

[2] Zh. Khachatryan, The Armenian Folk Dances of Djavakhk, in: Hay Azgagrutyun yev banahyusutyun, v.7, Yerevan, 1975 (in Armenian).

[3] G. Stepanyan, The History Outline of Western Armenian Theatre, v.1, Yerevan, 1962 (in Armenian).

[4] E. Petrosyan, Zh. Hkachatyan, The Armenian Folk Dance, Moscow, 1980 (in Russian).

[5] N. Simonyan, The 50 anniversary of the DanceCollege, Yerevan, 1975 (in Armenian).

Dr. Ms. Naira Kilichyan



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