The origination and the truth of Armenian Dance Groups in the U.S.
As Armenians we are very proud and happy to see and hear about all the Armenian authentic dance groups throughout the United States. They are growing and getting the Armenian youth involved and preserving the Armenian heritage, However, there is a misconception about how and when the first Armenian authentic dance group was created in the United States and by whom. I would love to take the opportunity to clear this misconception. Many articles have been written in newspapers and magazines stating different groups were the first authentic Armenian dance group in the United States. We need to reveal the truth about when, how and where the first Armenian ethnic dance group was created, organized and directed in the United States.
I choreographed and designed the costumes for the first authentic Armenian dance group in America, the Sevan Armenian Dance Group, in 1967. The group operated out of Tenafly, New Jersey and was sponsored by St. Thomas Armenian Church of Tenafly. The idea for this first dance group came from Rev. Fr. Arnak M. Kasparian, the priest of St. Thomas Church.
Through a unique upbringing, I was able to experience Armenian ethnic music and dance in a way few others of my generation and younger generations did. Many Armenian youth were experiencing a variation of Armenian music and dance which more closely resembled the music and dance of the influencing countries then it did traditional Armenian culture.
Fr. Arnak M. Kasparian did not want to see something so important to traditional Armenian culture fade away. Fr. Arnak M. Kasparian was aware of my background which included practicing many different ethnic dance styles as a professional dancer in Lebanon, so he asked me to organize an authentic, traditional Armenian dance group within the church. In addition to the work of Fr. Arnak M. Kasparian and me, the group was organized by George Shahinian and Dr. Garo Armoudian.
I want to give credit to the people who deserve it.
The group’s early performances could not have happened without the hard work of many individuals who volunteered their efforts. Nazar Nazarian donated all the materials that the dance group needed. I was very thankful especially for the women attending the church who helped sew the costumes.
The Sevan Dance Group’s first official performance was for the third year anniversary of St. Thomas Church, March 17, 1968. There were 14 dancers performing on stage with both solo and group dances. The performance was well received and Archbishop Torkom Manougian was so appreciative of the performance, he thanked all those involved and congratulated Sevan Dance Group on their "courage and success."
Having Sevan Armenian Dance Group was unbelievable. The authentic Armenian music was strange to all members and parishioners at the time, and they were not used to hearing Armenian authentic songs and melodies.
The results of those early performances were a resounding success. I continued my work as a director and choreographer with various Armenian dance groups in the U.S. for ten years. Many of the dancers I taught would go on to become instructors at many of the dance groups now being credited as the "first in America."
The group had several other successful performances in 1968. These performances including Jubilee Banquets Honoring Baikar, March 24, the 45th anniversary of BAIKAR Armenian Daily and the 35th anniversary of the Armenian Mirror Spectator, June 2, for the Armenian Aged in Emerson, New Jersey, June 16 and a banquet honoring Soviet Armenia President N. Harutunian in September. The banquet honoring Harutunian also featured performances from the Metropolitan Opera Star singers.
Each of these performances was documented by newspapers and magazines such as the Armenian Mirror Spectator and I have press clippings from many of the articles.
Sevan Dance Group gained notoriety and had performances hosted by theaters such as Kavoukjian Auditorium in New York City. This particular performance was attended by his Holiness Vasken I (see picture on the left) from Armenia.
I was asked to form and direct other Armenian dance groups including the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) Armenian Song and Dance Ensemble which was formed under me in March 7, 1968 and Tekeyan Dance Group in Boston October 28, 1969. The AGBU Armenian Folk Dance and Song Ensemble eventually became known as the Antranig Dance Ensemble.
In 1978, I was asked to direct the newly Daron Dance Ensemble in Boston, Massachusetts.
On February 23, 1969 the A. G. B. U. Song and Dance Ensemble and Sevan Folk Dance Group, made its debut at Town Hall in New York City.
One dance critic wrote that it was one of the most successful Armenian song and dance festivals ever to be seen in New York, and Armoudian "was most talented (and) deserved praise for developing two (groups of dancers able to perform a variety of dances)." The performance included a chorus group directed under Mr. Ohanes Hepsen.
Tekeyan Dance Group, also known as the Dance Group of the Tekeyan Cultural Association of Greater Boston, would go on to perform for the New England Folk Festival in 1970, the John Hancock Hall in Boston in 1971, Bentley College in 1972 and WGBH-TV in February 1977. In addition to these the dancers performed at numerous other folk festivals and gatherings, both Armenian and non-Armenian in the region.
I have listed other notable performances of the dance groups. "An evening with Varujan" was hosted by Town Hall in New York City, performed selective dancers from Sevan Dance group and Tekeyan dance group, Nov. 18, 1971. The AGBU Armenian Song and Dance Ensemble returned to Town Hall on February 5, 1978. Many critics praised the performance. The music was directed by Jack Baghsarian and guest artist Maro Partamian.
Daron Dance Ensemble performed under my direction and choreography with live music directed by Jack Baghsarian and sponsored by AGBU National Youth Association at Kresge Auditorium Hall, Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 20, 1978.
Antranig Dance Ensemble performed at The Lisner Auditorium, The George Washington University, Washington DC, June 10, 1978 with Jack Baghsarian as Musical Director.
My story and the corresponding press clippings prove the first Armenian authentic dance group was Sevan Dance Group, originated in Tenafly, New Jersey in St. Thomas Armenian Church, followed by A.G.B.U. Armenian Folk Dance and Song Ensemble (presently Antrang Dance Ensemble), Tekeyan Dance Ensemble, Antranig Dance Ensemble (which was AGBU Song and Dance Ensemble), and lastly, Daron Dance Ensemble all under my direction.
I am currently retired and living in Oklahoma with my wife, Rosemary. I can be reached by at email@example.com or by phone, (580) 774-0833