Bar, Par, Govend, Ververi, Mshu Kher – REVISED – Armenia

Bar, Par, also Govend, Ververi, Mshu Kher,ARMENIA

Armenia’s long and tragic history has included many displacements and a few genocides, resulting in a widely dispersed population.  At least 5 distinct dance traditions exist simultaneously in the Levant, the USA, Istanbul, Anatolia, and Armenia proper.  However one dance, possibly the most ancient, is known by all Armenians. It is our old friend the Taproot Dance.  Armenians call it by several different names, each with a few spellings, reflecting different regions, dialects, and methods of converting Armenian to English. In Eastern Armenia (the country) it’s called Par.  In the Western, diaspora Armenia, it’s Bar, due to different dialects of the spoken language.  Part of former Armenia, now in Turkey, called it Govnd, Gyovnd, Gyond, Govend, Goevnd. Another term is Mshu Kher, referring to a Taproot Dance from Mshu, Msho, Moosh, Moush. Then there’s Yerek Votk, meaning “three steps”, a reference to its Taproot structure.

Bar/Par can be used as a generic term for a circle or open circle dance, as in Laz Bar or Sepastia Bar (unrelated to Taproot).  When Bar is used alone it’s most likely a form of Taproot Dance.  Bars with singing as the only accompaniment are called bari-yerker.

I recently received a detailed letter from Armenian dance and culture authority Gary Lind-Sinanian. Gary was kind enough to review this posting and offer comments and corrections. They are added below in italics.

The verb ‘barel/parel’ now means ‘to dance’ but originally in classical Armenian the word meant ‘to move in a circle’. The classical Liturgy instructs that the priest do a ‘bar’ around the altar. That does NOT mean he danced around the altar…it means that he leads the religious procession to walk around the altar.
Par and Bar are the same word, Eastern vs; Western Armenian dialects. The word was primarily used in the area from Sepastia east through Karin (Erzerum) into the Caucasus. South in the areas of Van/Sasun etc the word Gyond/Govand was used, meaning ‘to move in a line’. The northern dances had more circular dances while the south had more linear dances. Today it is used to mean ‘dance’ and when alone, usually the ‘3 & 1’ dance.
[what I call Taproot Dance – DB]. This ”3 & 1′ dance was often not referred to as a ‘bar’ but rather ‘Yerek Votk” (Armenian) or ‘Uch Ayak‘ (Turkish), both meaning ‘three steps’ , but those same names were often used for other dances as well…it’s very confusing. Sorry I can’t clarify a better answer for you.

Though all Armenian Bars share the same basic pattern of weight changes – step, step, step, __, step, __, there is much variety of styling details, some of which are sooo different they appear to be different dances, some of which result in different names. Below, I’ve listed a few varieties, with YouTubes.

Bar, Par, Yerek Votk

The simplest, most straightforward Bar is by Armenian-Americans. Not many fancy dips, hand bounces, extra steps – just an easy step-step-step-kick-step-kick.

“Shourj bar’ is just a catch-all term for a ‘3 & 1’ in the USA. Not a specific melody. Any 2/4 will do, or sometimes a 6/8 or 10/8,  People aren’t very picky. But the tempo can change how the dance is actually executed.   

Andover, MA, 2016. 2/4 time. Your second dance (Andover, MA), is an American ‘bar’…faster than a gyovnd but less stressful than a msho kher. The dance is Americanized…more homogeneous and easy for all to do.
Chelmsford, MA. 2007. 10/8 time. This version: step-step-step-touch-step-touch.

In North America, Bar is an open circle with classic Armenian ‘pinkie’ hold.  Tempo – various. Face Centre

Variations include a clap on each beat, and a full CW turn on the 1st 2 steps while clapping. Source: Folk Dance Problem Solver, 1996

Here’s an mp3 of the music I use for Par

Govend, Govnd, Gyovnd, Gyond, Goevnd. Գյոնդ or Գյովնդ

The demonstration below says it all. Slower tempo, “zspanak” or “spring”, which is the deep flexing of knees, forearms forward and touching, pinkies interlocked, hands bouncing up & down with knees.

Excerpt from caption: “When dancing with others, remember left over right: the littlest finger of your left hand should rest over the top of the same finger of the person to your right and so on. As you move together as a unit and work to dance in synchronicity with one another, bear down into the earth and connect with the ground below you. The zspanak~զսպանակ technique takes time, so don’t rush the process! Practice to get your knees to be more supple. Move rhythmically.
Connecting to the earth and moving in a circle is a powerful way to bring forth positive energy in whatever space you are in. In Armenian symbology, the circle carries important significance: from the live-giving sun, and our sacred infinity symbol, to the tonir- where we bake bread, and much of our traditional Armenian silver jewelry…all of these important elements take the form of a circle. The circle symbolizes prosperity, wholeness, and it holds divine energy. The cyclical nature of the dance, as it moves repeatedly to the right, can bring forth a meditative quality to our daily life.
Remember that Armenian dance has always and continues to hold a purpose OFF of the performance stage. In fact, much of what we see in dominant representations of Armenian dance are actually transmuted by ballet and other eurocentric values and techniques. Dancing gyovnd and other communal dances can be a powerful way to re-connect to one another and to the world we live in. We hope you enjoy it!”
Here’s an example of bari-yerker. Caption reads: “Jora Grigoryan sings Sona Yar. Version from Moush. Sung in Aparan. Komitas collected several folk songs from Jora’s grandfather Grigor. Pictured with Grigoryan are Prof. Arousiak Sahakyan, Hasmik Harutyunyan, Komitas State Conservatory students, and members of the Kitka Women’s Vocal Ensemble.”
Singing and dancing “Kakav karin” in Yerevan with Masunq Ensemble
Gagik Gnosyan with the Karin Ensemble, performing the Govend. Yes, it is a ‘taproot’ dance, probably the oldest dance in Armenian culture, as in many other cultures.

Verver, Ververi. Վերվերի

Ververi is Par on steroids. Fast tempo,

Yes, ‘verver’ is also a ‘3 & 1’. the most distinctive feature is the hopping style. Technically, this was originally a dance for teens (unmarried youth) as a fertility dance, but it now has lost that ritual association so adults do it too.

Back in Armenia the Country, the website Armenia Tourism Blog has an article called “Armenian National Dance Ver-veri: Jump Up High” Here’s text from that article.

Ver-veri (Վեր-վերի) or Ver-Veruk (Վեր-վերուկ) is one of the most beautiful Armenian dances, popular in all regions of Armenia. It belongs to the two steps-forward/one step-back type of dances and is very easy to learn. The name Ver-veri indicates the mood of the dance — light, joyful and sometimes even humorous. The root of the word “Վեր-վերի” means to jump up high, to dance from joy, to rejoice. It also includes the meaning of height and upwards. In old Armenian this dance was called Vernapar, which means “dance upwards.”
Leaps and jumps are used quite often in Armenian dances. They symbolize the efforts of the dancers to have a magical impact on the fertility of the plants, birds, animals and humans. Ver-veri is usually performed in circles, either hand in hand or by holding each others’ shoulders, with handkerchiefs attached to their waists.
As mentioned above, Ver-veri is quite easy to learn. I suggest you watching the tutorial, which, unfortunately, is available only in Armenian, but I will try to help you with the language.”

The teacher here is Gagik Ginosyan, leader of the KARIN Ensemble (see also YouTube above), who is chiefly responsible for a rebirth of interest in traditional Armenian dance, rescuing it from decades of Soviet-influenced theatrical choreographies, returning to simple folk patterns backed by thorough research.

Ver-veri has 2 versions – average and high speed.
Average speed version: dancers perform hands down by taking each others’ hands. Hands slowly move back and forth during the dance. The feet movements are as follows: right foot makes a step to the right, left foot makes a cross-step to the right, right foot makes another step to the right, left foot makes a move in the air without touching the ground, and then goes backward. Then the right foot moves to the left in the air and comes back to its initial position.  
High speed version: dancers hold each others’ shoulders. The feet movements are basically the same, they just perform this version with more leaps and jumps.”

Although the average speed version may be self-explanatory, the high-speed version (starting at 2:46) is a little trickier. Both speeds take 6 beats to complete one sequence.

BEATS: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,

AVERAGE SPEED: R, L, R, lift L, L, lift R,

HIGH SPEED: hop L,R, L, Both, kick L, Both, kick R

With the high speed version, all movements are higher, more vigorous.

Often in Armenia, Goevnd and Ververi are combined into a continuous set. Yes, they now often use Gyovnd-Verver as a set nowadays, the same way that American-Armenians use Shuffle-Bar as a standard set. People like variety and to end with a more energetic faster dance.

Starts with Goevnd, then at 1:31 breaks into Ververi
And taught bari-yerker in schools.

Mshu Kher

Mshu, Msho, Moosh, Moush, Մուշ, Muş (Kurdish) a city and province in Turkey, was part of a traditional homeland for many Armenians.

‘Sasna Par’, simply means ‘Dance of Sasun’. The specific dance performed is the ‘Msho Kher’, VERY popular today. I’m attaching a syllabi on it.

Note the use of what Laura Shannon calls the ‘pert’ (fortress) or ‘bahd’ (wall) hold, a tight hold used by Kurds. 

Mshu Kher is a traditional dance from Moush, in the Taron district. A variant on the basic ‘three and one’ step, [what I call the Taproot dance – DB] the dance is intense but has little lateral movement, barely moving the group from the starting point. The focus is on the intricate body shifts rather than large movements. The Mshu Khr is said to represent the restless pawing of horses, a traditional masculine symbol. Once a male-only dance, the Mshu Kher is now done by both genders with enthusiasm around the world.
Source: Gagik Ginosyan
Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=162&v=2tDTDhG_R2w
Formation: Line of dancers with arms at sides, fingers interlocked.
Style: Erect carriage and focus on the group as one unit. The action and challenge is in the flexing of the legs, not traveling, and Msho Khr has two types of legs flexing. A deep ‘flex’ which requires a flex/plie of the kneees as the body sinks and rises, and a shallow ‘bounce’ which is a movement primarily through the ball of the feet rather than through the knees. The dance is in place and the shifting between the flexes and the weight shifts provides the challenge.

Note: Mshu Kher is one of the most popular and widespread of the traditional Armenian folk dances today and many slight variations and elaborations can be seen on ‘youtube.com’, either among the many dance ensembles that perform it or among the various Armenian youth at social events.

A wedding, also featuring the Msho Kher. Note the small ‘wedding tree’ in the free hand of the dance leader. He’s the ‘Gunkahyer’, the best man/godfather, and his carrying the tree, a fertility symbol, is traditional at the wedding festivities.
The next video, another wedding, also features the ‘Msho Kher‘, and is nice at it allows you to see how men can still improvise within the structure of the dance.
This YouTube ref is to a group performing the  ‘Msho Kher‘, which it states explicitly (in Armenian), followed by the “Yarkhusta’, the most macho of the men’s dances, a perennial crowd pleaser. Note how the young people in the audience begin dancing the ‘Msho Kher‘ in the side aisle. Outside of at weddings, older people generally don’t dance in public…a cultural norm in Armenian culture. Maintaining one’s dignity in public is important.

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