Tuesday, 20 August

Memories of Moush: Seniors Still Perform - Dancing's In Their Blood

81-year-old Garnik walks with a cane, but says he’ll dance if the time and place are right.

Garnik is a member of the Msho Havker folk dance group in Dzoragyugh, a village in Armenia’s Gegharkounik Province.

The group, whose name translates into Birds of Moush, is made up of seniors. Garnik is the eldest and the tallest member.

Msho Havker was founded in 1979. It turns forty in two years.

We walk a few yards from the village municipality to the cultural center. The group hasn’t rehearsed in eight months.

Escorting us is Khachik Soghoyan, director of the cultural center and the group’s artistic director. Khachik also dances in the group. At 65, he’s the youngest member.

Garnik says that rehearsals have stopped because two group members have died. He laments the gradual dissolution of the group due to old age.

We walk on in silence. I notice Garnik is dragging his leg. As we enter the cultural center, Garnik turns to me and says, “My dear girl, we don’t dance now because my wife and Khachik’s have died. It’s difficult.”

Hearing this, Khachik blurts, “Dear Garnik, we’ve stopped dancing temporarily.” Smiles appear and fade on their faces. One doesn’t know what to say.

We go up to the director’s office. There’s a clock, bearing the emblem of the Republican Party of Armenia. It doesn’t work. Papers are strewn about the desk. An old calendar adorns the wall.

Time has stopped in this room. Khachik says they hardly visit the office. The group either rehearses in the hall or, in the winter, in his home. The center lacks central heating.

The groups name stems from the fact that Dzoragyugh residents trace their roots to the Moush region in western Armenia. In fact, the group specializes in traditional Moush dances.

Mr. Soghoyan says that prominent dance instructors from Yerevan have visited the group, asking to be taught the old dances.

The desk is full of awards and certificates of merit. The group has performed in Yerevan; at the Opera House, the Sundukyan State Academic Theater, the Cascade, among other sites.

Taking the group’s first prize awards from the cabinet, Mr. Soghoyan (photo) wipes off the dust and shows them to me.

“We’re well-known in Yerevan. When we participate in festivals, dancers from Yerevan make a point to visit,” he says.

Mr. Soghoyan used to play the zourna at weddings and other functions. He was struck by the dances that once were de rigueur at weddings. He recounts that line dances would continue into the wee hours of the night. Garnik nods his head in agreement.

People would dance before the wedding, on the day when the animal to be consumed was slaughtered.

“There were no cars, or the luxuries of today. If the bride was from a neighboring village, they made her walk a few kilometers. Is the bride better than us? Let her walk like us,” Khachik jokes.

Garnik adds that after all that dancing, at the dawn of the wedding day, guests would be served khash (a dish of boiled cow or sheep's feet and/or head).

Both men learned to dance from their fathers. They say the dances are ingrained in their memory. Those learning the dances for the first time have a much harder time mastering them.

Each member of the group has their own costume. Khachik brings a few costumes from the other room. He’s sewn the garb with his own money.

Khachik confides that he’d die if he stopped dancing. The men say that dancing is a language and that every step conveys a meaning.

“Only a few seniors dance today. Many want to, though. They call up and tell us to come and dance. But we don’t have a bus. I can just about transport ten people,” Khachik says. Waxing philosophically, he adds that the regardless of the number of medals and awards, the old-timers can’t take them with them when they die. They’ll be left for the next generation.

Descending the stairs, Khachik says people who want to know more about Msho Havker can go to its Facebook page.

The sun is setting over Dzoragyugh. In the village square, opposite an old store, the menfolk have gathered, sitting and chatting.

Noise from a passing car periodically interrupts their conversation.

The eldest and youngest members of Msho Havker amble along, joining in.

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