18/12/21 (Last modified 18/12/21)
This section of our website aims to document and share performances of various traditional Armenian dances that have been preserved by Diasporan communities in the United States. To this end, Houshamadyan is partnering and collaborating with a group of Armenian dance experts who have produced appropriate dance notations for documentation. This group consists of Carolyn Rapkievian (of Bar Harbor, Maine), Susan and Gary Lind-Sinanian (of Watertown, Massachusetts), Tom Bozigian (of Los Angeles, California), and Robert Haroutunian (Sunyside, NY).
Govdountsi Bar is an Armenian village line dance from the region of Sivas/Sepasdia. Although the name refers to one specific village of Govdoun (present-name Göydün and Gökdin), the dance was practiced over a wide area in many different villages (Kochisar, Kotni, Zara, Govdoun, Khorsinar and others). Many of the Sepasdatsi Armenians in New England and New York had immigrated from that district. This specific dance was the most popular of the many dances from that region and until the 1940’s the term ‘Sepasdia Bar’ usually referred to this particular dance.
In the 1940s the Armenian picnics expanded beyond regional picnics for specific villages/areas into much larger church-based picnics which attracted Armenians from all regions of historical Armenia and other areas of the Ottoman Empire formerly inhabited by Armenians. A different Sepasdatsi village dance ‘Uch Ayak’ gained wide popularity and became known generally as ‘Sepasdia Bar’ to most non-Sepastatsi Armenians. However, ‘Govdountsi Bar’ remains popular at the Sepasdia-Armenian picnics in New England. Originally a man’s dance, it can still be seen performed today at picnics in Rhode Island and in Western Massachusetts danced by both genders.
Pronunciation: Govh-doon-tsee Bahr.
Sources: Boghos ‘Willy’ Peligian, Barkev Kaligian, Carnig & Murad Pelegian.
Music: Leo Derderian’s recordings.
Style: Erect relaxed carriage. Steps get more energetic as the dancers get excited but remain controlled. Men at the front end of the line with women at the far end.
Formation: Open circle in ‘Armenian hold’ (little fingers interlocked with hands held at shoulder height). Like many Armenian dances, this dance has a ‘follow the leader’ style as the leader determines when to change the step or direction. The changes are not called, so cues are visual.
Continue step pattern gradually progressing to right (cts. 5-16). This pattern can continue indefinitely until the dance leader decides to change direction.
Leader decides to back up and steps forward L to left in front of R (ct. 1). Step on ball of R behind L (ct. &). Step forward L to left (ct. 2). Step back on R (ct 3). Hop slightly on R as lift L in front (ct.4). The cue to change direction is when the person to your right begins backing into you, forcing you to also reverse direction.
The leader decides to reverse direction and move again to right. He steps forward L in front of R (ct. 1). Step on ball of R behind L (ct. &). Step forward L (ct. 2). Step back on R (ct 3). Hop slightly on R as lift L in front (ct.4). Continue step pattern gradually progressing to right (cts. 5-16). This pattern can again continue indefinitely until the dance leader decides to change the step. The dancer becomes aware when the person to the right begins pulling them to the right.
Letting go of joined hands, the dancer claps hands at chest height as step forward L in front of R (ct. 1). Step on ball of R behind L (ct. &). Clap hands at chest height as step forward L (ct. 2). Step back on R (ct 3). Hop slightly on R as lift L in front (ct.4) and open hands and gesture.
1) Unidentified Armenian boys from Govdoun in their traditional clothes. This photograph, originally in black and white, was digitally colorized using DeOldify and was retouched by Houshamadyan.
2) An Armenian woman’s traditional dress from the region of Govdoun. Drawing by S. Khachadrian.
3) Unidentified Armenian boys from Govdoun in their traditional clothes.
(Source: Vahan Hampartsoumian, Գիւղաշխարհ. Պատմական ազգագրական ուսումնասիրութիւն [Village World: Historic-Ethnographic Study], Paris, Daron Press, 1927)
Note: When gesturing, the gestures differ by gender.
Men may extend palms forward or may exaggerate as if preparing to ‘throw a football’ (extend one hand forward with palm out while draw back the other beside ear with palm forward). Gesture is smooth and strong.
Women may gesture by extending palms forward and may do a slight rotation of wrists. Women’s gesture are graceful and restrained.
Continue following the leader’s changes.
Vahan Hampartsoumian, Գիւղաշխարհ. Պատմական ազգագրական ուսումնասիրութիւն [Village World: Historic-Ethnographic Study], Paris, Daron Press, 1927.
Note: There are traditional ‘unwritten rules’ of this dance understood by all.
1- The leader never calls out the step change. This creates an element of suspense as the line anticipates the next change.
2- One never changes the direction of travel if the dancers are clapping. One must rejoin into a linked line before the ‘barbashi’ (dance leader) decides to change the line’s direction.
3- When one is excited, one can lift the L higher on ct. 4 for emphasis, but only by drawing it up beside the right calf. The L is never raised high in front. Restrained tension.
4- Clapping hands with the person beside you during a clapping sequence is considered gauche. That’s a different men’s dance.
5- The leader often waves a handkerchief while dancing as a dramatic element. He can use it to also indicate when he changes the step, but that lessens the fun and should be avoided.
6- Some ‘crashing’ into another dancer while changing direction is both common and acceptable… there is no stigma when it occurs. It is a folk dance for pleasure. Have fun.
Editorial note: At the conclusion of the "Govdountsi Bar Demonstration and Tutorial" video, you will notice Armenian men dancing the Govdountsi Bar during a picnic at Springfield. Since the early 1900s, Springfield, Massachusetts has been host to a vibrant Armenian community with many new arrivals settling in Indian Orchard. Armenian picnics there feature live music and dancing.