Eastern Arts home | Upcoming Events | Recent Activities | Past Events | Catalog | Contact | Links & Colleagues | IDT | Eastern Arts |

Enjoy examples of great jazz and diverse ethnic music on jazzscope.com

Middle Eastern Dance & Music Information
Persian (Iranian) Dance & Music  |   Afghan Dance & Music   |
Central Asian Dance & Music  |   Caucasus Dance & Music  |
Dance East & West  |   Dance, Music & Culture Bibliography  |


DANCE & MUSIC OF THE CAUCASUS

       Please out of respect for traditional dance of peoples of the Caucasus, we ask that these facts be for information only and not to be misrepresented by night club or show-off dancing but only to be further studied to be possibly eventually performed by very serious folk and ethnic dancers in a respectful egoless manner. No part of this copyrighted material which is drawn from publications by Eastern Arts may be used in any way without written permission from Eastern Arts, Thank you.

VOCABULARY

CAUCASUS - area of Caucasus Mountains just west of Caspian Sea, east of Black Sea
CENTRAL ASIA - area forming a band just east of the Caspian Sea into parts of China
DOIRA - round skin covered frame drum
KAMANCHA - skin covered bowed instrument
TAR - skin covered plucked instrument
SHALAKO - well-known dance of the Caucasus
GYOND - Armenian word commonly used in dance, "to dance"
KARTULI - well-known couple dance of the Caucasus

GEORGIA

       Caucasia is a region in southwestern Russia. It is divided by the Caucasus Mountains which extend 750 miles from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea. The area north of the mountains is known as Northern Caucasus and the area south is called Transcaucasia meaning "across the mountains." After the Bolshevik Revolution the southern section was organized as the republics of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. In 1922, they were reorganized as the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic of Russia. In December of 1936 they were reorganized again as three separate states within the Soviet system. And now, in 1990, the states are seeking independence from the Soviet stronghold.

       The Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic is situated in the Central and Western Transcaucasia, covering an area of 69.5 thousand square kilometers. Rich archaeological finds, as well as written sources discovered throughout the Republics territory, attest to the ancient origins of the Georgian people and excellence of their varied culture. In the second millennium B.C., the economic and social life in Georgia was already ripe for the emergence of tribal unions, and later, for the formation of states. In the middle of the first millennium B.C., two states had already taken shape on Georgian territory; Colchis and Iberia, or Kartli. The countries greatest cultural phenomenon, the Georgian alphabet, must also have been created in pre-Christian times. The ancient Greeks gave a high appraisal of many phenomena in Georgia's social, economic and spiritual life.

       Since ancient times Georgia suffered unceasing invasions. At the junction of the old and the new eras, the two main world powers at the time, the Persians and the Romans, fought to gain supremacy over Georgia. In the 4th century the Georgians adopted Christianity, thus taking the path of European cultural life, the same period saw the beginning of incessant wars between Persia and Byzantium, contending for possession of Georgia. In the second half of the 6th century, Georgians grew in strength under the hand of King Vakhtang Gorgasal, a mighty ruler who built a new capital on the site of Tiblisi.b Finally, King Vakhtang met his death in a battle with the Persia, and Iberian-Kartlian territory was again overrun by them, while Western Georgia fell under Byzantine domination.

       In the 7th century, Georgia was attacked by new conquerors, the Arabs, and the Georgians warred against them for four centuries. Still, involved as they were in an unequal struggle against foreign invaders, the Georgians never ceased developing their culture and erecting architectural monuments. Wars with the Arabs culminated at the beginning of the 11th century in the complete liberation of Georgia and her new unification. That century saw remarkable monuments of Georgian architecture. However, the 11th century witnessed a series of invasions by Seljuk Turks which brought Georgia to the verge of complete destruction. Just then, at the beginning of the 12th century, there appeared in Georgia a great statesman, politician and promoter of the countries culture in the person of King David the Builder, 1089-1125; he was a farsighted and wise ruler whose radical social and economic reforms brought about the restoration of the countries internal power, the expulsion and annihilation of the terrible foreign conquerors, and the unification of the realm. He liberated Tiblisi and made it again the capital of Georgia. David added to the kingdom the lands lying on both sides of the Caucasus from one sea to the other, creating a single Caucasian state. David the Builder founded the "golden era" of the Georgian people which attained it's peak at the junction of the 12th and 13th centuries during the reign of Queen Tamar.

       In the 13th century, Georgia fell under the yoke of the Mongol invaders. It was only after a century of battles that the Georgians drove out these invaders and once again restored their united and independent kingdom. At the junction of the 14th and 15th centuries, Georgia was attacked by Tamerlane, another powerful and cruel enemy. Eight times he invaded the land, spreading destruction and death. In the course of the following centuries the Georgians devoted themselves to repelling the recurrent Persian and Turkish invasions. At the beginning of the 19th century, Georgia was integrated into the Soviet Union.

       Georgian dance is generally characterized by the graceful floating gait of the female dancers. With bodies erect and leaning very slightly forward, the women create lovely formations and turns in an appearance that has been said to form the illusion of ice skating along the floor. The hand, arm and head movements are flowing and gentle while traveling in this quick floating manner. The modern dress is commonly a floor length gown fitted at the torso and long sleeved, in a solid usually pastel color. A type of pillbox hat is worn with a veil attached to the back, probably a remnant of the Islamic veil.The most characteristic element of the male Georgian dance is the acrobatic, or gymnastic movements including knee spins, aerial cartwheels, splits and kicks and many other such feats. But the most amazing to most viewers is the fast and varied manner of dancing on the knuckles of the toes. The dancers wear soft soled boots and often jump continually on the toe knuckle, with the body straight and strong, the arms in a very heroic posture, the men often shout or proudly stare as they do this spectacular feat. It is said that it is done in preparation for battle, to show virility to the commanding officer and others. The men's costuming consists of a long, almost knee length jacket with long sleeves which are sometimes rolled up or may hang well below the hand. Two of the most prominent features of the Georgian men's costuming is the tall fur hat and the eight little pockets on each side of the jacket breast, containing ammunition cartridges. The colors for the jacket are usually dark often black, gray, brown or a dark red often adorned with medals or braid or gold trim, with dark tight fitting pants, dark shirt and the straight leather boots.

ARMENIA

       Armenia is a mountainous region in Western Asia of historical interest as the seat of one of the oldest civilized people in the world. Located in the highlands surrounding Mt. Ararat, the Armenians trace their origin to the ancient hero Haik, a descendant of Noah through Japeth. They are of the Indo-European stock and their language is related to the Iranian group. Armenia emerged as a separate state about the same time as the Babylonian collapse (7th century B.C.), but was culturally dominated by the Persians for centuries.

       During the reign of Tigran the Great (95-55 B.C.), Armenia developed into a power which challenged Rome for control of the Middle East. Armenia reportedly adopted Christianity just after the death of Christ, when Jesus is said to have sent his apostle Thaddeus to heal King Apkar and eventually convert the court to the faith, and in 314 A.D. Armenia became the first state to adopt Christianity as the official religion.

       In 637, Armenia felt the influence of the Islamic Arabs, but by the 9th century had reaffirmed their independence under Prince Ashod. Armenia was a powerful ally in the Middle Ages and even established relations with the Mongols in the Far East. Subsequent to Turkish invasion Armenia eventually became part of the Ottoman Empire.

       In 1604, at the time of Shah Abbas, some 40,000 Armenians migrated to Persia where they established the Nor Julfa community outside Isfahan. This community came to dominate Iranian commerce and establish a trade network between India and the Far East. Since 1915, 80% of historic Armenia, depopulated by the Turks, has spread throughout the world. Only about 20% of historical Armenia survives today, as the smallest republic of the USSR.

       Armenian dance differs according to district, with the Eastern areas resembling Georgian and Azerbaijani dance, and the Western areas resembling Kurdish, Turkish and Assyrian dance. The dance can also be divided into traditional folk and contemporary stage/character dance. The theatrical dance seen most commonly today in the U.S. and abroad is a stylized development from the traditional dance style of the eastern districts. The movements are exaggerated for the benefit of large audiences, and performed in unison by large choreographed ensembles, yet have their original base in the folk tradition.

       The women's solo dance, less dramatic than Persian court dance or Persian miniature, rely heavily on upper body movements employing asweeping arms and slow undulating wrists. Fingers are held in a long C-pattern also called "deerhead pattern", and are kept still while the arms and wrists are utilized. The head turns from side to side framed by the arms. The back arches as arms are held high and brought lower sweeping in front or behind the torso. The movement basically consists of sedate walks, dipping occasionally or executing quick three-quarter turns repeatedly. The walk is almost a glide similar to the Georgian manner of "floating". In some cases, the dancer chooses to briefly kneel, re-enacting daily tasks such as sweeping, spinning etc. Dancers often join little fingers and dance in lines or circles. Stage groups sometimes use the basket hold familiar to folk dancers, and the more traditional simple hand holds. Ordinarily women do not use props, aside from the basic scarf essential to their apparel, which can be waved about as the dancer sways or walks to the music. Men and women do not often dance together, and if they do, men and women do not usually touch one another. Large ensembles choreograph enchanting patterns with women floating gracefully from one formation to the next gently changing the elegant arm positions and body angles to create a flowing motion. Women retain a dreamy innocent air, never looking fully into the faces of the audience or their partner. A small wisp of a smile may play about the lips while the eyes appear demure and almost expressionless; the dancers, at times, appear to dance in another realm not quite of this earth.

       Men's staged dance, on the other hand retains a passionate vigor displaying the traditional characteristics of virility. In contrast to the female styling, male arm movements are simple yet powerful and masculine. Arms are held high or one hand across the chest and the other held out at shoulder level. While dancing in a line, a variety of holds are used such as shoulder or hand holds. The dance is punctuated by stops in which the right heel hits the floor before the left foot. Men's dances are often composed of strong, sturdy kicks, leg lifts, jumps, leaps and stamps as well as intricate sharp footwork executed with purposeful vigor. A well-known men's dance is the Fortress Dance (pert bar) in which the men form a human pyramid standing on each others shoulders.

       Common words in Armenian dance are gyond meaning to dance, and bar to move in a circle. Vana Gyond, also called halay, kochari, govand, is a traditional men's dance from Van/Vaspoorakan; particularly popular among New York Armenians. It is often done in short mixed lines in close "W" hand hold to a 4/4 meter. Hale (halay), is a man's dance in 4/4 meter originally done in locked arm position but now using various holds. Moosh is a mixed dance from the district of Moosh/Daron, west of Lake Van. Today moosh is a mixed line dance holding little fingers at shoulder level, with the leader at the left end of the line. Tamzara is a dance done in 9/8 rhythm and is widespread throughout much of Armenia. A two person version originating in Kharpert has become widespread throughout the U.S., but many other line versions exist, both old and new. Laz bar originated among the fishermen of the Black Sea, and is in 7/8 meter. Little fingers are held at shoulder height. Shalakho is a 6/8 rhythm dance popular throughout the Caucasus. The folk versions vary, in some areas being a woman's solo dance, and in others a man's solo. The most well-known stage version depicts two men competing for a woman's attention. It can be performed with one or more dancers, male or female, dancing freestyle in the Caucasian manner. The movements for women can be soft and lyrical, and include little grapevine steps and hand gestures typical of the solo dance. The actual music is fast and spirited, and the male dancing reflects this, being expansive and vigorous.

       costuming varies from area to area and a great deal traditional folk to traditional theatricalized. The theatricalized "national costume" is an adaptation of folk dress of the Caucasus and consists of a long "A" line cut dress of light-weight fabric in light, often pastel color with long narrow sleeves. The dancer usually adds a fitted jacket with elbow length belted at the waist. The headwear for this costume includes a pillbox cap or tiara covered with a flowing long often of lacy or sheer fabric. The hair is done in two long braids.Everyday wear, or even the festive traditional clothing for women is less elegant than the theatricalized, at least in the western definition, and naturally more practical. For example, women would wear a dress with matching shalvar (pantaloons), of cotton or satin. This festive costume of Sepastia includes a jacket with sleeves that extend beyond the hands and are split up to the elbows with a brightly colored sash at the waist. The more practical daily dress would include a blouse and shalvar and a long jacket without the extended sleeves but split on the sides. The front ends of the jacket are sometimes tucked up into the waist belt for ease of movement. An apron, usually of red velvet with gold embroidery, is worn to cover the exposed legs and pantaloons. Headpieces for these costumes are usually a pillbox hat with coins hanging at the forehead and covered with a scarf or kerchief like a veil. This scarf would be wrapped around the head for protection and wrapped about the neck as well. The jackets are usually of a bright striped fabric and are topped off with sashes of large scarves wrapped about the waist. Footwear for Armenian dance would be a red colored slipper, low-heeled shoe or a pump in the more modern renditions. The men often wear a tight fitting shirt with cuffed sleeves and large buttons. They are well fitted and are set off by high black boots or in some cases, reddish flat shoes similar to the women. Vests are fairly typical in Armenian men's dress and vary in color, fabric and design upon the region or the occasion.

                                          GEORGIAN DANCE                                                         ARMENIAN DANCE


Eastern Arts home | Upcoming Events | Recent Activities | Past Events | Catalog | Contact | Links & Colleagues | IDT | Eastern Arts |