DETROIT – The weekend of August 11-14 marked the second meeting of the folk dance expert group led by Tom Bozigian of California to document authentic Armenian folk dances that were brought to the United States from Western Armenia. and elsewhere in the Ottoman Empire by the original. Generation of Armenian immigrants.
The group, which meets frequently on Zoom, had its first in-person meeting in Boston last August. The purpose of the meetings is to film instructional videos of the dancers performing these traditional folk dances accompanied by live music. Bozigian, 84, grew up learning the dances of early immigrants to the Fresno area. While his mother’s family was originally from Kharpert in Western Armenia, having a father who was an immigrant from the Gyumri region of present-day Armenia meant he was exposed to Eastern and Western Armenian culture his entire life. He pursued a career as a folk dance expert and also studied in Soviet Armenia with experts there.
Bozigian is considered the preeminent scholar of Armenian folk dances that have reached the United States from historic Armenia. The Armenian-American community, for various historical reasons, has been home to the strongest folk dance tradition outside of present-day Armenia; not only that, but a multitude of dances from historic Armenia have survived here that have not been transmitted in present-day Armenia. With the generations who brought these now extinct dances and the community in its 4e and 5e generation, many of these dances are lost in time. The preservation of this heritage is the purpose of the dance project. The dance teachers found a sponsor in Houshamadyan, the Berlin organization headed by historian Prof. Vahe Tachdjian, whose goal is to document the heritage of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
In addition to Bozigian and his wife, Sheree King, other experts in this dance style gathered, including Gary and Susan Lind-Sinanian of the Armenian Museum of America (Watertown, MA), Robert Haroutiunian, leader of the Aradzani Dance Group in New York, and Carolyn Rapkievian (Bar Harbor, ME) who spent many years with the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, and is the group’s coordinator.
Bozigian, King, Haroutiunian and Rapkievian met in Michigan where they spent two days filming in the ballroom of the old “Hye Getron” (Findlater Building) in southwest Detroit. The building, which began life as a Masonic Lodge before being purchased by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) in the early 1940s, was known as “Hye Getron” for two decades, housing the “agoump” (club-house) of the ARF, the ballroom, and the church of Saint-Sarkis. In the 1960s, the hall was sold and the ARF-affiliated community purchased new property in Dearborn. Currently an event space and banquet hall (El Bosque Salon) serving the large Hispanic population of what is now known as Mexicantown, the hall was chosen for its historical value as a venue for many Armenian events where early immigrants performed the same dances that were to be filmed. Music was provided by Hachig Kazarian, famous clarinet virtuoso and leading expert on Western Armenian folk music in the United States, as well as George Nigosian (oud), Ara Topouzian (kanun), Gerry Gerjekian (davoul) and Mike Mossoian (dumbeg).
Kazarian’s leadership of the group had added significance and weight, as many of the dances filmed originated in the Van-Vaspuragan area and were taught to Detroit’s Armenian community by his father, Yenovk Kazarian, and passed down through his grandfather. -father, Khachig. The dances were therefore performed with their original melodies which were passed down from the immigrants with little or no change.