Haygagan Bar Part 3: Preservation, Narrative, and Developing Identities

Written by Abbie Tarpinian Porto

25 June 2024

This piece is part of a research series that will be released in five parts, over a period of 5 weeks. You can find parts one and two here.

Photo from Lernazang Ensemble. This article was originally written as a thesis for the MA Program in the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago, and has been adapted for publication here.

Preservation, Narrative, and Fixity

“The men went to war, homes and families rested on the shoulders of women,” reads the program description of Siragan’s dance called “Pillars.” The women appear on stage wearing taraz costumes of white dresseswith sparkly black detailing and gold headpieces. They dance to a slow song with string and woodwind instruments, holding their arms in a careful and upright posture and flicking their wrists to the music. Their movements flow with the steady pace of the music, their control exhibiting a quiet strength. The screen at the back of the stage provides a backdrop of the famous tatik-papik monument in Artsakh. The music fades, and the lights dim.

“The battle is not done, and there is no more retreat,” the program describes the next dance, “Battlefield.” Loud zurna and drums play as the men come onto the stage in brown taraz shirts and black pants, and Yerevan’s statue of David of Sassoun, the Armenian hero of legend, shows on the screen in the background. They perform the ancient martial dance yarkhushta49with intensity and rhythm. The dancers jump, clap, and hit their shoulders together with incredible energy. The audience claps and cheers along. With their vocalizations and forceful movements, the dancers create a powerful energy.

The insecurity of exile and disconnect from homeland, as well as the legacy of the Genocide (which is still unrecognized globally) has contributed to the intensity of cultural preservation efforts. Armenians grow up learning that they must preserve and keep sacred Armenian culture. As the head priest of the local Armenian church said at Sardarabad’s performance, “God bless you all for preserving the Armenian culture.” This preservation is an effort to rebuild what was lost from the Genocide and to assert a cultural presence in the world. In some ways, this idea is very motivating. For Levon, Armenian dance is “a tradition that we’re carrying on for grandparents’ and parents’ generations, or great grandparents for some people, and there’s a pride in knowing we’re the only ones carrying that.” It’s a matter of pride to know and to do these dances. It is a way to honor ancestors and to remember those lost. Similarly, Lilit mentions, 

I think the thing that centers us is the preservation of the Armenian culture. It’s never been a question that that’s the language that we’re speaking in our house with our grandparents, and that’s the thing that they’ve preserved and has stood the test of time regardless of where they grew up in the world… our family is really proud of the fact that we still put being, or we really want to put being Armenian first, and we’ll preserve that, even with my kids.

The purported goal of preservation is central to her understanding of what makes her Armenian, and she intends to continue to emphasize this with her own children in the future. Armenians generally like being Armenian, and they want to continue what they know and love. Like Chris queries, “Why would anybody try and preserve something that makes them happy, or something that can spread love? It is because you want to feel that again, like you felt it once. You felt, you know, you were watching a performance once, you were dancing once, and you go, I want to feel that over and over and over again.” Yet the strongest force behind this intention to preserve the culture comes as a response to feeling threatened. Elen explains, “It’s always felt like I have a responsibility to keep my culture, because if my generation doesn’t, then where does it go? Right? We’re literally seeing Armenia in turmoil over land. So just like, let’s think about, though it’s hard imagining the worst case scenario, what if we didn’t have a land, then what?” Elen speaks to what many Armenians feel; the Genocide already took so much, so it is necessary to preserve what we still have, especially now, as the Azerbaijani government pushes Armenians out of their homes in Artsakh. 

One way for Armenians to contribute to this sense of preservation is to narrativize their understandings of Armenianness, particularly through dance. Sardarabad’s show centered around the idea of a wide-ranging historical Armenia, presenting the narrative of Armenians coming from and honoring an expansive homeland. Meanwhile, Siragan’s show told the story of Armenians persevering and thriving through turmoil and joy, comparing Armenia’s history with the current situation in Artsakh. Both ensembles performed narratives that touched on specific aspects of Armenian experiences, aiming to present a story that remembers the past and continues to promote ideas surrounding homeland, survival, and continuity. Lilit describes how the narratives presented in a dance performance contribute to the idea of preservation:

With a performance, you really are like, sharing this narrative, and maybe sharing some slower dances, ones that like provoke some more emotion in people that’s not just happy.… Being able to have a little bit more imagery, or like, bring some other type of emotion to it that shows like, maybe we’ve lost some of our lands, but the culture is still there, the traditions are still there, the dance moves that we’ve learned in those areas have stood the test of time.

For many of the dancers I interviewed, centering their shows around a narrative gives more meaning to their performances. Lusineh sees dance as a way to touch on the subtleties of Armenianness that words cannot quite express:

I think from the Armenian perspective, there is just so much to tell, right? And that’s not just to say, “Oh, the Genocide happened, you know, all of our slow, sad dances are about the Genocide.” No! I think that there’s just so many nuances in the Armenian history that deserve to be represented. Not just, you know, in a random Powerpoint slide at something, but I think dance is a unique way to tell that story. And it helps keep the dancers aware of what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.

In this sense, dance can wordlessly express and tap into emotions to share a story that is difficult to talk about. This emotion connects the audience with the dancers, potentially sharing a message that is more comprehensively understood through affective connection. Because of this, Jirair encourages using narrative dance as a means of presenting issues that Armenians face to the world:

You’re able to craft a story nonverbally with, you know, music, rhythm, your body, and we have a lot of stories to tell. I think Armenia could really benefit on the global stage if we were able to tell our story in a clear and more concise way. You know, because we, I don’t wanna dive too deep into politics, but we had Artsakh for 30 years, right? We weren’t able to get it internationally recognized. And now the narrative coming from our own government [of the Republic of Armenia] is that it’s not even Armenian anymore.50 And so people look at it, and they say this is the story. If Armenians are telling their story as “Artsakh is no longer Armenian,” if literally we are saying that, then like, who is anyone else to tell us different, you know?

Jirair suggests the emotion this specific kind of storytelling evokes can help people see and understand Armenians better, perhaps changing how the rest of the world views Artsakh and provoking the desire to help. To this end, Jirair calls Armenians in diaspora “the PR committee” for Armenia and Artsakh. It is not my goal to determine whether this would be materially effective, but for many of the dancers here, narrativizing dance is a way to work through and raise awareness of the complex issues Armenians face. Hopefully, this emotional, physical storytelling fosters a strong connection with the audience that leads to sympathy for Armenian struggles.

The opportunity to share both the sorrows and the joys of Armenianness with non-Armenians is one of the more unique parts of being in a dance ensemble, according to a few of these dancers. One of Elen’s most memorable times dancing was during a festival with a mixed audience. As she recounts, “We’re putting on a show for our Armenian and non-Armenian audience. And that part feels the coolest to me. It’s when it’s like, non-Armenians there, because we get to show who we are, or a piece of who we are, to maybe a community that’s never even heard of us. Or maybe they’re like, ‘Oh, the loud ones that book the street every August, cool, those guys!’” Similarly, Alice is touched by the diverse audiences she has performed for:

[At] the annual Evanston picnic that we have, there’s a lot of people who come just like, from the surrounding streets who come and watch, and even just seeing the videos after and seeing how big of a crowd it is, and people will just come in from the sides who were just walking around. And I know we performed by Northwestern University, so a lot of those students will come by and will watch, and I think it’s just cool to see all the intermingling between different cultures, and it’s just, very sentimental and special, I think.

It is often exciting and heart-warming when non-Armenians take interest in Armenian culture because it does not happen often, and many Armenians want to share their stories widely. By presenting their dance as a compelling narrative show, Armenian dancers are more likely to gain this kind of attention from outsiders. Conversely, at another festival, Jirair points out how special it was to perform for an Armenian audience:

Last summer we went to, I think it was Saint Mesrob’s hundredth year anniversary in Racine, Wisconsin. And we went there, and like the average age is probably 80 years old. But afterwards, like, they couldn’t believe it. Like, grandmas would just come up and start crying. And they’re like, “My parents lived through the Genocide,” you know, and these people would say this, “They didn’t teach me Armenian, it was too painful, but you know it’s always in us, and seeing you guys really did something to us.” And so, of course, I wanna be able to do that to the older crowd.

Here it is apparent how powerful the emotions are that dance can evoke, even for those only watching. For those Armenians that remember the impact of the Genocide more closely, seeing a younger generation actively claim and present Armenianness is a sign that preservation efforts can lead to the continuation of a living Armenian culture.

Outside of these kinds of performances, people still dance to remember. According to Van, the intention to preserve is what differentiates his dance from that of his ancestors. He explains, “Given our situation as a diaspora, it’s also a means of cultural preservation. I think that’s the one large change that if you looked at why my great grandparents would’ve danced versus why I dance, I think the factor that makes it different is mine’s for preservation as well [as for fun].” Taking this idea of preservation further, though he does not participate in ensemble dance himself, Van sees why people do:

I also see the instructional element of it as a better means of preserving it, so that there’s nothing lost in communication, right? Things are codified, they’re written down as like history. That’s something that comes only with like a true dance organization, because I don’t dance, you know, Michigan Hop [an Armenian-American shurchbar], and then write down how many steps I took in the dance. Or like, there’s less, I guess, transcription or less codification with doing it casually, but, on the other hand, the heavy-handed element, it doesn’t always produce the best result.

Dance ensembles collect and teach certain dances, providing an avenue to preserve and transmit the cultural knowledge of the dances they perform. In casual dance settings, this cultural knowledge is not produced in the same way, making these dances more susceptible to people forgetting them.

Van mentions “the heavy-handed element,” hinting that this strong desire for preservation of Armenian culture can also lend itself to a kind of narrowing of cultural forms. As many Armenians attempt to overcompensate for the trauma of genocide and exile, they promote a fixed and uniform idea of Armenianness, stemming from romanticism and nationalism, inadvertently pushing other Armenians away. Staged dance cultivates a specific image of Armenian culture, originally drawing on techniques from ballet to promote Armenian dance as a part of “civilized” or “high culture” art. Many of the dances that Armenian ensembles perform continue from the Soviet-era nationalization efforts in what is now the Republic of Armenia. To be sure, this history does not detract from the value of staged dance, but it does place it in a certain context that is not relatable or meaningful to all Armenians, and it carries some harmful connotations.51 Natalie discusses this legacy in her academic work:

…[I]n bemakan par technique, ballet supersedes vernacular aesthetics and practitioners are simultaneously taught to reify colonial notions of civilization and modernity that mark indigenous Armenian heritage as primitive, devoid of technique, and as needing “development” by way of a Soviet balletic encounter. In the bemakan style, traces of Armenian vernacular aesthetics—which are already submerged by balletic comportment and syntax—are reduced to Orientalist ornamentations that are used to add an “ethnic spice” and a sense of authenticity to the form.52

Thus, the state-sponsored dance ensembles of the Soviet era, under the purported intention of preserving folklore, took some traditional dance aesthetics and “balleticized” them to create a dance form more appealing to “modern” European taste.53 As the most visible and widely shared dance form, this relatively new style appears to encompass the whole of Armenian dance. In this sense, the primacy of staged dance minimizes other expressions of Armenianness as seen in the azgagrakan dance that Natalie practices with her ensemble or in the casual shurchbar tradition that Van grew up with. By taking such strong influence from ballet and ignoring local dance aesthetics that may not fit as well into a narrative, staged dance presents a romanticized version of Armenian culture.

Going back even to Komitas, the romanticization of “folk culture” has been a tool to promote a singular version of Armenianness. Much like Komitas’ goal of promoting Armenian national unity by collecting “authentic” folk songs, Soviet dance ensembles used musical culture to popularize a romantic idea of a highly cultured Armenian nation. Further, if a dance ensemble aims to gain positive attention from outsiders or to raise awareness for a particular cause, it follows that they would try to appeal to their audience with attractive dance aesthetics, namely ballet. Though current dance ensembles largely do not have this specific intention, their traditions come out of the Soviet folk ensembles that did, and romantic notions of “high culture” still linger in the form. At the same time, going the route of Komitas and only considering dance forms seemingly untouched by “foreign” influences is inaccurate to how people interact with and create their cultures. Music and dance change and grow as people do. Natalie describes this balance of honoring dance traditions while being careful not to freeze those traditions in the name of preservation so they cannot grow:

So for us to like kind of, and other azgagrakan practitioners, not just us, they’re seeking to do something different or in alterity to [bemakan dance]. And they do that by looking back to our roots and using ethnographic materials and things like that. And then I think that we’re sort of looking at also like, how do you decolonize that? So how do you make choices, like aesthetic choices, but at the same time, you’re not kind of looking to create the sense of like, “pure origins,” because ultimately, that defeats the purpose of decolonizing. There’s no such thing as this, like, pure authentic or whatever, because either way, that’s, you know, tradition is constantly changing. So for us, we have to make it relevant for us, but we’re also trying to maintain some integrity, some aesthetic integrity, as to what our dance form could look like without leaning towards balletic approaches to dance.

Natalie, in her work with Lernazang, thus aspires to preserve Armenian dance culture without holding to some imaginary of authenticity. Through ethnographic dance, she has found an alternative to staged dance that gives her a way to interact with Armenianness.

Additionally, even outside the world of ethnographic dance, staged dance does not connect with every Armenian. Gaïdz recalls being bored by the bemakan dance performances that his grandmother excitedly took him to see as a child and rejecting his mother’s attempts to enroll him in Armenian dance classes. Van similarly remembers his childhood dismissal of Armenianness, disclosing that, as a child, “I didn’t like [being Armenian] because it meant I had to go to school on Saturday and Sunday, right? I didn’t want to be Armenian because it meant I had more school.” Having grown out of these feelings, Van now appreciates having gone to weekend Armenian school to learn about language, culture, history, and religion. At the same time, he warns against forcing a singular view of Armenian culture, especially when raising children to appreciate their heritage:

You have the forced preservation, right? And then you wonder why the kids who are in that don’t like it. Whereas you have me, who was never a part of that forced preservation [in a staged dance context], who eagerly seeks Armenian dance, and wants to preserve it. So I think it’s almost, it plays on, like, the rebellious nature of youth, especially diasporan youth. If you force it upon them, there’s a chance that they just rebel and don’t want to do it or burn out, or they associate it with, like, you know, a trauma of being yelled at or too much discipline.

This disinterest appears in Gaïdz’s case, as the more his family pushed involvement in staged dance, the more he rejected it. Being from LA, Gaïdz was not aware of the particular shurchbar tradition of Van’s East Coast Armenian community until his late teens, and he did not connect with what he saw to be Armenian dance at the time. Thinking about how he felt about his Armenianness when he was younger, Gaïdz describes, “[I] felt very sort of detached. I felt very bored by a lot of things having to do with my Armenian culture, like I think there were certain things that I took, at least at that point, took for granted how deeply ingrained they were in me… but at face value, I was bored by it. I wasn’t interested.” As a kid, Gaïdz did not feel particularly inspired to explore his Armenianness as the dominant version of Armenian culture in his community did not quite match with his own self-image. During this period of his childhood, Gaïdz encountered such strong messages of Armenian cultural preservation so frequently that he actually distanced himself from participating in Armenian culture.

Arguably, this idea of a singular Armenian culture stems from overly nationalistic preservation efforts. Here, Natalie explains how she understands the way nationalism leads to exclusion or conflict:

I think it’s partly like a nation-state phenomenon, this kind of pressure to sort of abide by and have this one singular sense of identity, because that’s just what the nation- state does. Like it just picks something and then it nationalizes it. And so it makes everyone be like, “Oh, this is yours,” you know. It’s sort of like diversity and variety is a threat to that approach to unify. And then you add this other layer of diaspora, and then you actually have this whole other layer in the Armenian context of like, Armenians already being diasporic prior to the Armenian nation-state. So you have Armenian communities growing up and forming themselves in different communities already. 

So Armenianness is already diverse, but then you have the nation-state, then you have a diaspora, and then there’s all these anxieties that people are trying to sort of funnel into like, “Well, this is what I know. So then this is right. And if you are telling me something different, then that means mine is not right anymore. And now I feel threatened.” Instead of us just recognizing that there isn’t really a singular way of being anything.

Being recognized as Armenian seems to require an adherence to narrowed national standards that do not allow for diverse expression or experience. When one feels an obligation to connect their Armenianness to a homeland, and the Republic is the most accessible version of homeland, then the idea of a common, global Armenianness is centered in cultural elements from the nation-state. Many Western Armenian words, music, dances, and food that were seen as too Turkish died out as people were shamed out of using them or never passed them down to their children. 

Eastern Armenian language is prioritized over Western Armenian, bemakan dance in the US keeps its ballet aesthetics, and Armenian-American shurchbar is not considered “authentic” enough as a form of Armenian dance. If it were otherwise, being Armenian would mean too many different things, and then how would Armenians be able to preserve their culture and live on in defiance of the Genocide? So goes the logic of those who promote the preservation of one, definitive Armenianness.

Diversity and Change within Armenianness

The drummer begins beating a rhythm, and the other musicians prepare themselves. A dancer shouts, “Hey!” and the two zurna players start a drone and a slow melody. The Lernazang dancers are on stage in a line, shoulder to shoulder and holding each other’s hands with crossed arms. They wear earth-toned, taraz-like clothing; the women have black shirts, silver necklaces and headbands, and colorful, wide-legged pants, some wearing aprons with intricate geometric patterns, and the men have long-sleeved shirts, vests, and black pants. They bend their knees and dance in a circle with strong steps. Natalie leads the line, waving a red cloth with her right hand, and the dancer at the other end waves a black cloth with her left hand. The dancers vocalize “hey!” to the music and lift their arms as they continue to move in a circle. Then, the music speeds up, and the dancers transition into a faster dance. Still traveling clockwise, they jump to the center of their open circle, swinging their arms forward as they do, then jumping back and bringing their arms in. With their joyful shouts and playful smiles, the dancers generate an air of enjoyment and fun.54

While diversity may be hidden in the name of a unified Armenian nation, people continue to express their Armenianness in different ways. As a dance group outside of the typical expectations of Armenian staged dance, Lernazang sometimes finds that people do not actually understand what they do. Natalie recounts one such situation:

We gave a performance this past weekend at the Glendale library, and we were the only performance group. We also did like a workshop for the community, and then we had a short performance. And when they were making their flier, they put an image of a bemakan dancer, so someone who was dancing in a very like elevated and balletic posture as the main flier, you know, and if there were other dance groups invited, then whatever, I wouldn’t really think anything of it. But I did raise issue because I was like, well, this is not really a proper advertisement of the kind of group that you hired, that you are inviting. So, you know, it’d be great if we could change that because it just, that doesn’t represent what my group, what we’re trying to do.

The risk in prioritizing bemakan as the most polished form of Armenian dance is that when others, like Natalie, want to share their unique experiences of dance, people are not as receptive. In acknowledging the variety within Armenian dance, and by extension Armenianness as a whole, Armenianness becomes more real, and more human, instead of a pristine, idealized identity to conform to. When comparing bemakan and azgagrakan, Natalie maintains, “These two different forms, in fact divergent forms, often tell different things, and they construct Armenianness in very different ways. Even though they are both claiming to be sort of quote unquote ‘traditional Armenian folk dance’ or whatever. I think they’re both. I think they’re doing different things in that.” There is no one “correct” form of Armenian dance because Armenianness encompasses a wide range of traditions and cultural expressions. Both staged and ethnographic dance speak to some part of the Armenian experience, meaning they both contribute to an active Armenian culture. With the inclusion of shurchbar as another form of Armenian dance, Levon agrees:

Someone would probably argue for like three types of dance.55 So you’d have pematrvadz dance, or like staged choreographed dance, which is like [our] dance group. You’d have shurchbar, which is the kind of dancing you do at like a barahantes,56 which is like the circle dance. And then you have azkakragan dance, which is like ethnographic dance, which has seen kind of a resurgence lately. It was generally more popular in the last 100 years in like Hayastan than in most areas in the diaspora, and there’s been kind of a movement to help bring it back…. So for choreographed Armenian dance, you will have Russian elements or ballet elements, or whatever, by the nature of the dance, right? Or you know, shurchbar, musically or visually, may be more similar to Turkish or Kurdish. Or azkakragan maybe, you know, whatever criticisms people have of those dances. I think it’s always worth remembering that like, those dances have all served a role in preserving some form of Armenian identity in the places where they were developed, and so it is important to understand where they came from, and which elements may or may not be Armenian. But it’s also important to recognize that each of them have value, right?

Each form of dance is shaped by its surrounding cultures and what is important to those dancing. These influences differ, and the variety in dance reflects this. Still, it all remains Armenian dance, valuable to the dancers who aim to enact their Armenianness. Influence from non-Armenians does not detract from what Armenians create, and the differences between regional cultural elements do not make any one more important than another. As Van points out,

A lot of the songs that East Coasters dance to are fundamentally songs that a lot of people would associate with being Turkish, in like the instruments and the words and the sounds, but those are the dances that we danced in Western Armenia. Whereas on the West Coast and other places, the pool of Armenian immigrants has a lot more representation from Iranian Armenians or people from the modern Republic of Armenia. These groups of people, obviously Armenian as well, but they have very different traditions kind of given where the fault line was between what you consider Western and Eastern Armenia. So the East Coast, funnily, has the Western traditions.

The diversity of Armenian experiences is exemplified through their different styles of music and dance, clearly showing that Armenianness is bigger than a prescribed, romantic nationalist version of what culture should be.

In shifting away from a fixed kind of preservation, people dance what they learned from their community without striving for authenticity, but rather embodying these dance forms as Armenians in the present day. Van does not mind that he does not dance exactly the same as his ancestors did. He explains,

As much as we try to adhere to where we came from, and preserve everything perfectly, there’s also kind of a natural, you know, dynamicism, if that’s even a word. There’s a natural element of change innate to Armenian dance that you can’t really fight. You know, I don’t do the Michigan Hop or the other dances the exact way that they were made, but I know that I’m at least doing them nominally to preserve them. But you know, over time they’re going to look a little bit different. I think that dance is a little different from music in that sense, because you can hear music from, you know, 100 years ago. But dance wasn’t as recorded. It wasn’t as, like, viewable. I think [with] dance you kind of have to cut some slack to let it change a little bit. Whether that’s, you know, how high you’re jumping during a dance, or the footsteps, or if you’re holding pinkies or if you’re holding hands like, there’s certain things that I’m not on a mission to preserve. But I just let, I let be, and you know, whatever happens, happens.

Van prioritizes the memory and spirit of his ancestors’ dances over replicating the exact moves that they did. Besides being impossible, exact replication is not the point. Van dances to feel, not to mimic. In this way, preservation for its own sake does not actually keep Armenianness alive, as not allowing dance to change over time alienates it from those Armenians that are currently alive and dancing. Gaïdz expresses his own feelings about this when he says,

There’s a distinction between hayabahbanoutiun57 and sdeghdzakordzoutiun.58 Right, hayabahbanoutiun is preservation, sdeghdzakordzoutiun is creation. I was done with hayabahbanoutiun. I was frustrated with that. I was interested in the act of creation. Right? How do we create? All right, we’re three generations out, four generations out [from the Genocide]. Let’s start creating culture again! And so recognizing that a lot of the conversations [from] 150 years ago, in the late nineteenth century, were very much so in conversation with what was taking place currently, and then during the [Artsakh] war, I mean, the parallels were just, I mean. They were shocking, for lack of a better word. And so being thrust into dance during that, like following all of that, dance for me became a way of actually sort of creating and participating, practicing.

Following his childhood distancing from Armenian culture, Gaïdz sought to understand his identity better through Armenian literature, and eventually, Armenian dance. He became committed to creating space for contemporary Armenian life and cultivating a present-day Armenianness, discussed more in the next section. Part of this creation is recognizing that through the diaspora, Armenianness itself has spread wide and changed to fit a multitude of experiences.

Of course, like any group of people, Armenians do not always agree on everything. Despite the general call for Armenian unity, divisive political parties and rival church organizations have divided Armenian communities almost as long as they have existed in the US.59 Unfortunately, the two dance ensembles in Chicago are not strangers to this kind of separation. The major difference between the groups is that Sardarabad is part of Hamazkayin, an international cultural organization of diasporan Armenians that is connected with the ARF, and Siragan is a private group unaffiliated with any specific organization within the wider Armenian community. The few dancers who mentioned this in our conversations did not seem to feel strongly about the original reason for the division and generally supported the existence of both groups. Lilit sums up the situation from her perspective:

This other dance group has been around for, I mean a fair amount of years now because I was younger when they split off. But yeah, that’s the reason why there’s two in Chicago. And there’s a lot of, a lot of the main disputes in our community comes from that which is really sad, because it became this thing that, like, I say I really interpret Armenian dance as this universal way to bring people together and just express yourself, regardless of what opinions and beliefs and whatever you have. Like it’s just one of those things that, it’s not split by dialects. It’s not split by political beliefs. Like there’s, you know, certain representations of dance, but the goal is to really showcase all of them, especially in the diaspora. And so I don’t know. A lot of other states in the US have multiple dance groups, but I think ours was just brought on by like some dispute and disagreement which made it a little bit more divisive. It’s like, who’s involved in which one and who supports each one, and that kind of thing. And that’s why I say, especially for being a smaller community, it’s sad that a lot of the times we’re divided by something like that. Yeah, I give no like, fault or anything to any of the kids that are involved in the other one, because a lot of it was like our parents making the decisions of who was involved in things, and especially because it happened when a lot of us were very young. So I still like, yeah. It just like, stinks a little bit, you know.

Lilit mentions her disappointment that the Chicago Armenian community has this point of tension, especially as she sees dance as a way to bring people together. Although dance is not a magical force that can simply solve disagreements and ease resentment, it can indeed forge critical bonds, as I will now consider.

49 Յարխուշտա (an improvised martial dance from the Armenian Highlands in which partners clap each other’s hands).
50 Jirair is referring to the widely unpopular decisions of Armenia’s prime minister regarding the Republic’s involvement with the conflict in Artsakh. For more context, see Lillian Avedian, “Pashinyan ready to recognize Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan,” The Armenian Weekly, May 24, 2023, https://armenianweekly.com/2023/05/24/pashinyan-ready-to-recognize-artsakh-as-part-of-azerbaijan/.
51 I do not want to minimize the meaning and value of staged dance. As the dancers here show, staged dance can be powerful and have a genuinely positive impact. With this discussion, I am trying to open up the popular understanding of Armenian dance to include the forms that are not staged and to caution against an overly romanticized or overly nationalistic view of dance in general.
52 Kamajian, “Performing Paradox,” 6.
53 Kamajian, “Performing Paradox,” 21-22.
54 Lernazang Performance at Alex Theater in Glendale, CA, on February 19, 2023; “Մուսալեռան և Կիլիկիո Տապկիներ [Musaleran and Kilikio Dabki],” video, YouTube, posted by Lernazang Ensemble, February 22, 2023.
55 Levon’s explanation here helped me configure the definitions I provide in part one.
56 Պարահանդէս (Eng: dance party; ball)
57 Հայապահպանութիւն (Eng: preservation of Armenians/Armenianness)
58 Ստեղծագործութիւն (Eng: creation)
59 Robert Mirak, Torn between Two Lands: Armenians in America, 1890 to World War I (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), viii-ix.