Talking about Armenia and its respective culture and not mentioning Armenian traditional dances is like leaving the Armenian identity aside. During the historical turmoil, the Armenian dances were an important reminder of the passion and love of the nation for their land, keeping the national spirit high. The beauty and grace of the dances are a testament to the rich cultural heritage of Armenian culture. Each step, and movement, is a reference and reminder of the heroic past, and real mindset of the Armenian people. The sense of community and connection from performing and watching these dances also helps to inspire and motivate Armenians, providing a sense of unity and belonging that is essential in times of crisis.
Armenian dances are as old as Armenian civilization. Considered the oldest dance culture in the region, Armenian traditional dances trace their roots back to the third millennium BC. The petroglyphs with dancing people found during the archeological excavations are the foremost proof of it. At the same time, the Greek philosopher, in the first century has testified about Armenians building an amphitheater where certain rituals and dances were being performed. At that time Armenians were divided into special age and gender groups. The dance was dependent on the rhythm and ritual topic. While the creator of the Armenian alphabet Mesrop Mashots has described regional dances in the fifth century. Armenian traditional dances have passed from generation to generation based on the practice.
The loss of Western Armenia has resulted in the traditions from the other part of the Armenian Highlands coming to this part, some of which under the supervision of the Soviet government have been mixed. Now there are more than 35 folk dances preserved, let’s discover some of them.
If Armenian dances then Kochari surely. As a UNESCO Intangible World Heritage – Kochari is the most common dance in Armenia that can be performed during events, festivals, and occasions. The dance doesn’t recognize any gender, status, or age group. As long as you can jump and move your legs as many times you can be a part of it. The dance contributes to the continuity of historical, cultural, and ethnic memory, and fosters mutual respect among community members of all ages. Being originated in the highlands of Western Armenia, initially, it was a war dance that was based on the soldier’s experience on the battlefield. Kochari is the dance that everyone can dance. It is the easiest way to learn about Armenian culture. In case of being in Armenia, don’t hesitate to join groups and dance kochari. Locals like when tourists and country visitors try to dance.
Fun fact: Armenian kochari was danced in 1945, May 9 under the walls of Reichstag as a sign of victory.
Tightly connected to its roots, Yarkhushta is another masterpiece of Armenian traditional dances. It’s a powerful dance depicting the resilience and strength of the Armenian people. This energetic dance has originated in yet another heroic region of Western Armenia, Sasun – the territory that has always been popular for its resilience and ongoing battles against the enemy. Thus Yarkhushta collaborates with the heroic and energetic past of the Armenian region. It is danced in a line formation and is considered a clap dance. Two men are facing each other and moving to the beat of the music. The movements are designed to mimic the soldiers and hunters while the speed shows the agility of the war action by also symbolizing the fierceness and power.
However, this is not the trick with Yarkhushta. At the end of a set of movements, men clap each other with hands, because of which the dance locals sometimes name the dance of the mountains, especially if the dancers are large in size. Like kochari yarkhushta too became a phenomenon during the festivals. However, unlike kochari, it cannot be done just on the spot without training. The best way to have an experience with yarkhushta is by attending professional classes or special events where the professional dancers will perform this heroic legendary and all-time favorite dance.
Fun fact: There is a very famous poem dedicated to the heroic Sasun.
Parec Sasunn, u voghj ashxarhy hiacav,
Parec Sasunn, u voghj ashxarhy haskacav,
Vor par che sa, ayl: mi erkri hin patmutyun,
Ur partutyunn angam uni hpartutyun,
Ev chi haghti vochinch ayn qaj zhoghovrdin,
Vor ays janqov
U ays kamqo
Haskacan u asin i lur voghj ashxarhi,
-Halal e qez,
Danced Sasun and the whole world was amazed,
Danced Sasun and the whole world understood,
That this is not a simple dance, but an ancient history of a land
Where even in case of failure people have reason to be proud,
And no one will win that strong nation
Who knows to dance this hard,
Understood and told the whole world:
“Good for you, Sasun
Continue to dance!”
The list would be nothing without another masterpiece of Armenian culture – Berd. The name already talks about itself. Berd in English means fortress and right it is what this dance symbolizes – the fortress. Berd is typically danced by men and women, however, men have a special role to play here. The most important part is them standing on each other’s shoulders and making a two-layered real fortress right in the middle of the festival. Can you imagine that? That is when everyone is looking forward to it. It is highly recommended to be danced only by professionals due to its difficulty level and hard techniques.
The origins of Berd are not well-documented, but it is believed to have developed in the rural regions of Shirak as a way for farmers and villagers to celebrate the harvest and other important events. Over time, the dance has become an important part of the cultural heritage of Shirak and is now recognized as a beloved and iconic symbol of Armenian dance. Whenever you will listen to Berd keep your head it’s a must-see experience in Armenia.
Fun fact: Armenians also succeeded to have 3-story wall while dancing “Berd”.
Finally, we have reached up to the solo dances, more specifically bride dances. Uzundara or Bride’s Dance has been originated in Artsakh, Eastern Armenia. The name means ‘a long valley’ and is very common among brides to dance during weddings. That is where it got its second name. The dance present either a solo female dancer or a group of female dancers.
During the dance, dancers, make snakelike movements with their hands. This has its own rooted history. Back in pagan mythology, Armenians believed that there was a four-headed snake, which had a non-poisonous head that resembled Armenia. So, this lyrical type of dance was a dedication to that snake. Believe us there is no any kind of snake in dance.
Fun fact: the four-headed snake’s head was Armenia, the other non-poisonous head was the friendly nation, while the remaining two heads were the enemies.
The list ends with another Armenian important dance of Shalakho – another funny and energetic dance. The fun with this dance is that it is a battle between two men to get their loved woman’s heart. Now it can be danced within a group of men and women but still remains to be a very energetic and interesting 6/8 dance.
Fun fact: According to Armenian traditions sometimes this dance could be decisive for the men to get their loved girl.
We are not done with the Armenian traditional dances. Each of them presents a different aspect of Armenian-wide culture and presents them in their own way. Each dance carries deep meanings, emotions, and stories. In case of visiting Armenia, make sure to attend those concerts, master classes, trainings, or at least festivals and happy occasions. This is another reason to fall in love with Armenia.