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  • The Present of Armenian Dance

    Camera: David Barnes, Kaylie Connors, Colin Stucki, Bryan Wilmot, Emma Cregan, Shaun Weber
    Photo: Ronald Villasante
    Editing: Abigail Hendrix

    For two weeks this summer, the 2018 Folklife Festival presented demonstrations of arts, music, and dance from Armenia. The dance program culminated with a showcase of Armenian dance ensembles from around the United States and Canada. As both an organizer and participant in the program, I experienced magic—feeling I was dancing with my ancestors while seeing the vitality of Armenian dance in the present.

    After an open call to participate, seven groups of dancers and one soloist performed a range of styles in the Handes! Armenian Dance Showcase: Hamazkayin Arax Dance Ensemble (Detroit), Heritage Dance Company (Los Angeles), Akh’tamar Dance Ensemble (New Jersey), Sassoun Dance Ensemble (Toronto), and Kaleidoscope Dance Ensemble, Milena Oganesyan, the Shghta Dance Group, and the Arev Armenian Dance Ensemble (all from Washington, D.C.). They presented dances both in their traditional form and choreographed for the stage. Audience members enthusiastically cheered the dancers, ages six to sixty, performing line and circle dances, graceful improvisations featuring delicate arm and hand movements, and lively energetic dances.

    Behind the scenes, dancers participated in a master class led by experts from the United States and Armenia. “It was an experience of a lifetime, and truly an honor,” Nayiri Karapetian of the Hamazkayin Arax Dance Group commented. “All the dancers made friends during the master class. I had a blast!”

    This was the first ever gathering of Armenian American dance groups in the United States. Everyone asked if we could get together again for performances and further learning, perhaps even annually.

    Narine Petrosyan, director of the Heritage Dance Company, was moved to compose a poem in honor of the occasion:

    The Mystery of Dance

    We danced in the caves and the mountains,
    And in the temples of the gods.
    We danced in the streets of the cities,
    And in the deserts under the stars.

    We danced across the seas and down the ages,
    And I will show you the Mystery today.
    It will come to you by the movement of my arm,
    Suggesting the sorrows of generations.

    I gracefully turn and reach deep into your past;
    My eyes sparkle and you glimpse the future.

    The dance assures you that we can be more kind and brave.
    We can make ourselves and our world more beautiful.

    Observe the Mystery –
    How the movements express the music.
    Observe how I cleanse and uplift you
    How Life is affirmed and ennobled!

    The mystery and the magic of the Armenian dance program inspired our community elders, our children, and everyone in between, affirming our identity and our joy in sharing our heritage with the world.

    Carolyn Rapkievian was Armenian dance advisor for the 2018 Folklife Festival and is assistant director for interpretation at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

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