'Sacred Dances of Armenia' (2018)
Published in The Grapevine: Quarterly Journal of Sacred/Circle Dance, Winter 2018.
Sacred Dances of Armenia
Dear dancing friends,
We are looking forward very much to this year’s Festival of Sacred Dance, Music, and Song at Findhorn, July 14-21, 2018, with our special guest teacher Shakeh Major Tchilingirian teaching Armenian dances, accompanied by fabulous live music and song. Shakeh has danced for her entire life and has a huge repertoire of Armenian folk and lyrical dances. She teaches with great awareness of the sacred dimension of the dances and their capacity for personal transformation, as well as the historical context of Armenian dance. She will offer a balance of folk and lyrical traditional dances. Many other teachers and musicians will share their gifts and talents at the Festival, including Barbara Swetina, Peter Vallance, Maya Buckley, Sheila Pettit, Rory O’Connell and more. I will offer Greek and Roma (Gypsy) dances, with a focus on the meditative power, sacred symbols and healing energy these dances contain. Exquisite and sensitive live music will be provided by Kostantis Kourmadias, Nikolas Angelopoulos, and friends. More information at www.findhorn.org/dancefestival.
Armenian dances are among the most ‘sacred’ of all traditional dances, and have been among my favourites since I first encountered them in 1985. Their motifs and patterns are very ancient and constitute a nonverbal ‘language’ of movements which are deeply symbolic, powerfully evocative and profoundly spiritual. Many of the movements are inspired by animals, birds and elements of nature, revealing roots in shamanistic traditions of Central Asia going back as much as 20,000 years. In their healing capacity and the effect they have on our body, mind and spirit, I see a link between Armenian lyrical dance movements and similar body-based energy and healing systems such as yoga, T’ai Chi and Qi Gong.
Armenia became the first Christian nation, in the year 301 C.E., and the dances embody an early mystical form of Christianity profoundly connected to the earth, the body, and the divine feminine – exactly those sacred realms which were deliberately targeted and excluded by later developments of the Christian church. It is both precious and poignant to be able to joyfully embody these lost treasures of Christianity, within the safe embrace of the ancient Armenian dances. The dances thus serve as a kind of Ark, rescuing the last remnants of a vanished world and its message of wholeness and peace.
The philosophy of this healthy Christianity is expressed in the Armenian cross, the khachkar, which does not display the crucifixion, but celebrates resurrection, eternal life and the living wisdom of the Christ. The khachkar integrates the pre-Christian symbol of the Tree of Life, with vertical and horizontal dimensions (trunk and branches) representing spiritual and earthly realms respectively. These two axes meet in the heart of the cross as well as in the heart of the human, beautifully illustrating the harmonious integration of opposing or complementary forces (which was Jung’s definition of psychological wholeness). The healthy self and flourishing community, which can welcome all its parts and hold this wholeness in balance, is illustrated by the flowers, fruits and leaves of the Tree – expressing the cycle of life, death and regeneration, with the emphasis always on life.
Armenian dances also facilitate the integration of different axes of movement in their arm movements and step patterns. Many dances, such as Govand, belong to what I call the Tree of Life dance family – another link to the khachkar. In Armenian lyrical dances, too, which are based on traditional improvised movements arranged in circle form, the basic framework of the khachkar is visible as a kind of three-dimensional map of the dancing body, in which the dancer seeks to express a rich variety of experiences and feelings and to bring them into harmony. Shakeh is a gifted arranger/choreographer of these lyrical dances and over the years she has brought many of our most beloved dances into being in our dancing network, including Garabneri Bar (the Swan), Dou Im Yeghek (the Reed) and Tzaghkhatz Baleni (the Flowering Cherry Tree).
The khachkar honours not only the light but also the dark: the healing darkness of night and restorative sleep; the time of winter rest, so necessary at this time of year; and the dark earth which nourishes the planted seed. Beneath the roots of the Cross/Tree, a solar mandala in union with the earth represents this miracle of planted seed and new life springing from the matrix of nourishment, and symbolises sacred marriage as well as resurrection.
By integrating the tension of the opposites, the khachkar also helps hold the emotions of grief, exile, loss, and longing, which are a key part of the history of the Armenian people. The dances help us safely witness and heal these feelings, by bringing them into the presence of the healing balm of the dance circle. Armenian dances help us reconnect with the earth and sky, with the joy of community and the powers of nature, with the harmony of the cosmos and our own part in it. They strengthen our capacity for resilience, forgiveness, and healing, and help us ‘come home’ to a new understanding of our own body and spirit as our true inner homeland.
For these and other reasons, Armenian dances are a fertile ground for dancing with mindfulness and sacred intention. I feel we are particularly blessed to be able to dance them in the Universal Hall at Findhorn, at an intersection of ley lines considered by contemporary mystics such as Caroline Myss to be a hub of the planetary ‘network of light’. In alignment with the devotion to planetary healing which is one of the principles of the Findhorn community, we dedicate the dances to the work of inner and outer peace, harmony, and wholeness, in the hope that these qualities may also be of service to the world.
This festival is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so Shakeh and I hope to see you in the dance circle in July! With love and blessings,
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