Perhaps even more influential than this dual background was bred in the thriving and culturally traditional Armenian community of Fresno, where, immortalized by William Saroyan, Armenian winegrowers attempted to preserve to some extent a village way of life. Anatolian on American soil.

“In 1944, I started Saturday Day School at St. Paul’s Armenian Apostolic Church,” Bozigian says. ” I was 6. We studied Armenian language, traditional song/dance and Armenian plays. I grew up in Fresno finishing college and lived there for 25 years. I learned songs and dances from Armenian immigrants from Sepastia, Kayseri, Kharpert, Cheungeush, Sev Dzov (Hemshen), Erzenga, Erzeroum, Artveen, Ardahan, Alashgert (my paternal side), Moosh, Bitlis, Sasoon, Seghert . Then playing music rebounded from my experiences.

Susan Lind Sinanian

Moving to LA in the late 1960s where he worked as an educator, Bozigian studied ballet, as well as Armenian folk dance with choreographer Jora Markaryan, which led to an invitation to study at the choreographic school of State of Sayat Nova in Soviet Armenia in the early 1970s. He graduated from the academy and returned to Los Angeles in 1975, where he has since taught Armenian folk dance. Not only does he give dance lessons all over the world, but he performs as a percussionist and singer with his own ensemble. It has made it its mission to preserve Armenian folk dances brought to the United States by the original Armenian immigrants, in some cases preserved nowhere else in the world.

In recent years, Bozigian has gained recognition from ethnographic authorities in Armenia through his work. One of Bozigian’s frequent collaborators is Gagik Ginosyan from Armenia. Ginosyan, recognized today as the leading ethnographic dance expert in Armenia, promotes the teaching of Armenian folk dances in their original “unchoreographed” form. Under the influence of Hayrik Mouradian, who brought traditional folklore and dance to Soviet Armenia from the Van-Vaspuragan region, Ginosyan formed his own group, “Karin”, to perpetuate the original dances. With Bozigian’s help, Ginosyan added many regional dances to his repertoire, which have survived in the United States but not in Armenia. In some cases, he was able to revive dances that had come a fairly circuitous route; Ginosyan learned the “Kham-khama” dance from Bozigian, who learned it more than 50 years ago from a musician named Jimmy Haboian in California, who had learned it from the Kurdish immigrant community in his native Detroit. Ginosyan and Bozigian have reintroduced dancing to Yerevan, and the results are all over YouTube.

Dance team, assemble

Bozigian has become an individual institution, but at 83 he felt it was time to ensure his legacy was passed on. So, just before the pandemic, he approached Gary and Susan Lind-Sinanian of the Armenian Museum of America in Watertown. The couple have been committed to preserving all things Armenian (such as history, folklore and folk dancing) in the New England area for decades, and Gary, although not of Armenian birth, became one of the leading authorities in the United States on the dances of early immigrants.

Gary Lind-Sinanian reached out to Carolyn Rapkievian, who has been active in promoting traditional dance for years in the DC area, to set up a Zoom meeting, and Robert Haroutunian, the New York metro area’s leading expert, was added to the group.

Massachusetts-born Rapkievian worked as a museum curator for many years, including with the Smithsonian and was instrumental in bringing Armenia to the 2018 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, as well as being awarded by Onnik Dinkjian of the National Heritage Fellowship honor from the National Endowment for the Arts. She grew up attending Armenian picnics at Camp Ararat in Maynard, Massachusetts in the 1960s, where she learned the folk dances and culture of her ancestors Kharpert, Gesaria, and Sepastia. She led the Arax Dance Ensemble in Washington, DC from 2004 to 2015 and the Arev Dance Ensemble, also in DC, from 2015 to 2020, before she and her husband retired to Bar Harbor, Maine.

Caroline Rapkievian

Robert Haroutunian is the leader of the Aradzani Dance Ensemble affiliated with Holy Martyrs Armenian Church in Bayside, Queens, which aims to perpetuate traditional unchoreographed dance. Much of its repertoire is based on the research of the late Arsen Anoushian, a dance expert who led New York’s Armenian Folk Dance Society in the late 20and century, which had collected the dances of the first immigrants, in particular from the regions of Van, Erzurum (Garin) and Sepastia.

Bozigian, the Lind-Sinanians, Rapkievian and Haroutunian had never worked together before, but they had a mission to accomplish for posterity. According to Rapkievian, the group wanted to “make sure that the dances that people no longer do are passed on and maybe even revived.”

“We started talking once a month about what we wanted to do together,” Rapkievian explains, “and we thought about a lot of different ideas. And I said, ‘why don’t we try to do a virtual archive.’ We could collect videos that exist and record new ones if we wanted to, and the group thought that was a good idea and I started looking for organizations or institutions to partner with or host.

Due to the need for a reliable and dedicated website to host the dance videos to release to the public, Rapkievian began exploring Armenian dance archives and organizations. She was familiar with Houshamadyan, the Berlin-based web archive whose mission is “to reconstruct and preserve the memory of Armenian life in the Ottoman Empire through research.” Led by history professor Dr. Vahe Tachjian, the Houshamadyan Project has been making the history and culture of historic Western Armenia available to the masses through online media since 2010. They publish articles and videos in English , Armenian and Turkish on information that was once only available in thick out-of-print Armenian-language tomes printed in the United States or the Middle East in the mid-1920sand-century. These books, often dedicated to the memory of all that concerned Armenian life in a village, town or region, were known as houshamadyanner (memory books).

“Vahe was very excited,” Rapkievian says, “and we agreed to collaborate.”

“We had already agreed before contacting Houshamadyan to get together and dance together,” Rapkievian explains. “Convening some sort of summit of ourselves to make sure we were doing the steps the same way and in the same style.”

The top of the dance

The scheduled meeting ended up being joined and co-sponsored by Houshamadyan. Ani Boghikian Kasparian from Michigan was assigned to act as liaison between the entire Houshamadyan group and the dance project. Kasparian serves on the board of Houshmadyan USA, a 501(c)(3) group that was founded to make it easier for US residents to donate to the initiatives of the Berlin-based organization.

So the dance leaders converged on Boston in August to film the first 20 dances. They were joined by Bozigian’s wife, Sheree King. The videography was provided by Houshamadyan and took place in the lobby of the Armenian Cultural Foundation in Arlington. Live music was provided by the ensemble of oud master John Berberian with Mal Barsamian (clarinet), Bruce Gigarjian (guitar) and Ron Tutunjian (dumbeg). There were also some dances that were performed simply to the vocal singing of the dancers, which was traditional in historical Armenia.

Rapkievian states that “mainly Tom [Bozigian] and Gary [Lind-Sinanian] wrote the written dance instructions to do these steps. But you can’t really learn to do a dance from written instructions,” hence the need for videos. The written notes are best used as a cue for someone who already knows the dance, Rapkievian added. Of course, video isn’t ideal either, but it’s extremely valuable from a preservation perspective. “We are trying to find community recordings of dances that could be filmed in people’s attics or garages. The first dance we chose to post is one I found years ago, a video at a picnic of older men doing the “Govdun” dance.

The picnic was held in Indian Orchard, Mass., a suburb of Springfield. Still home to a vibrant Armenian community, most early settlers were from the Sepastia region (now Sivas, Turkey). The characteristic dance of men from the village of Sepastia, Govdun, has been transmitted in this community while it is little known elsewhere. In fact, New England musicians colloquially refer to the melody as “Springfield Sepo”. (“Sepo” is a slang term for a person from Sepastia.)

The Govduntsi dance was chosen from the 20 documented at the August summit. The video as well as information about the dance and its history can be found at https://www.houshamadyan.org/mapottomanempire/vilayet-of-sivas/govdoun/local-characteristics/dance.html

Houshamadyan is appealing for donations to help the dance project. Dance researchers are also looking for photographs and videos related to the dance of early Armenian immigrants to the United States. The group hopes to document all the dances transmitted and known to experts and teachers in the American Diaspora. They additionally plan to hold a second “Dance Summit” in the Detroit area this summer.

“In my parents’ and grandparents’ generation, the original village line dances were passed down,” Rapkievian explains, “because it was an expression of our identity, and it’s important to maintain our identity,” noting that the picnics organized by compatriot unions, or clubs of Armenians originating from the same city, the same village or the same region, were the place of transmission of these traditions.

She says the group is currently looking for more photos and videos and deciding on the next 20 dances to record, hopefully this summer in Detroit.

Rapkievian notes that the dances created by Armenian-American teenagers in the 50s and 60s are also a valid form of culture. They were created based on traditional movements, she says.

“Maybe after trying to record all the dances in the village, we will also try to do the dances born in the United States.”