NOTE: there is also a dance called Papuri from the Philippines – no relation.
Origins of Papuri
Papuri (also spelled Papouri, Pampuri, Pampouri, Pamphorig, Pomporee, Pompoureeg, Pomporii) is an ancient dance from eastern Anatolia, especially the regions of Moush, Taron, Sassoun, Van, and Alashkert.
There are many theories as to the meaning of the word Papuri. Gary Lind-Sinanian, in his Stockton notes (1985, 86) says “The dance was particularly popular in areas with a large Kurdish population, which may indicate Kurdish origins.” Tineke van Geel (Stockton, 2008) says “The name is derived from Kurdish and means ‘old man‘.”
Papuri among Kurds and Turks
It’s difficult to find detailed information in English on dances of the Kurds. Here’s one tantalizingly brief website, which mentions Papuri. https://thekurdishproject.org/history-and-culture/kurdish-culture/kurdish-dance/# If anyone can find YouTubes of Kurds dancing something similar to Papuri, perhaps with another name, I’d love to see them.
I’ve tried googling ‘Papuri‘ using various spellings, coupling it with ‘Turkish dance’ and ‘Kurdish dance’, and came up with almost nothing. I did find a Papuri in the middle of a Turkish teaching YouTube of dances from Van titled Van Halk Oyunlari, so it seems Papuri to the Turks is an obscure ‘historical’ dance suitable only for performing groups.
Ron Houston, in his 2016 Folk Dance Problem Solver, provides notes for a dance in 4 parts, called Papurı, presented to Michael Herman in 1963 as a Turkish dance by Çavit Kangöz. Ron adds “Subsequent presentations of Papuri-type dances have used similar figures or a subset of Kangöz’s figures.” Ron then goes on to state “In virtually every counry or ethnic group in the world, ethnographers took village dances to state-sponsored dance academies, where choreographers enhanced and standardized the dances for partriotic display purposes. State ensembles and diaspora communities accepted the choreographies as valid expressions of folk art, as did American recreational international folk dancers. Many excellent teachers have presented dances from this Papuri genre.”
Papuri in the Republic of Armenia
With Armenians, it’s another story! Whatever its origins, Armenians consider it one of their core dances. Lind-Sinanian, in his 1985 Stockton notes, writes “PAPURI is the name of a large class of related dances done throughout Western Armenia [Eastern Anatolia – DB]. Considerable variety in the steps and melodies existed, reflecting the different regions of Armenia.“
Very few Armenians remain in ‘Western’ Armenia – they’ve either dispersed around the world, or moved to ‘Eastern’ Armenia – the country named the Republic of Armenia on today’s maps. In the Republic of Armenia, the situation with the dance called Papuri is fairly simple. I googled the words ‘Papuri, Armenian dance’, and everything I come up with located in the Republic of Armenia is related to the dancer and Dance Director of the Karin Ensemble, researcher and all-round cultural icon Gagik Ginosyan. Below he’s leading his Kairn Ensemble in Papuri.
Papuri in North America
The situation outside the Republic of Armenia is different. Various groups of Armenians from different regions left their homeland at different times, bringing their specific ways of dancing with them, and congregating in specific cities. So in the USA, for instance, the Armenian dance repertoire is quite different in New York than, say, Fresno California.
The music for above, called Pompoury, (same arrangement, but an earlier recording by the John Vartan Ensemble) may be purchased from Smithsonian Folkways here: https://folkways.si.edu/john-vartan-ensemble/dance-armenian/world/music/album/smithsonian
The particular version of Karsi Bar, above, was recorded by the Trio Caucasianne. See: https://archive.org/details/TrioCaucasianneYesBoojoorCa1946
So how did the same dance end up with 2 very different pieces of music? Well, it seems the ‘Khorkom’ Papuri was not well-known among reecreational folk dancers, especially in the western US, so around 1976 Ron Wixman taught it at Stockton. His notes say “Actual music is unavailable”, so apparently he substituted the Trio Caucasianne recording. At least that was the music used when I learned it from him in 1982. Note Lind-Sinanian didn’t teach at Stockton (using the ‘correct’ music) until 1985. Also taught at Stockton were a ‘Fresno’ version of Papuri by Frances Ajoian (1955, repeated by John Filcich in 1962), a Vanetsi/Boston version by Lind-Sinanian in 1986, and an ‘Armenian’ version by Tineke van Geel in 2008. Filcich also taught a Karsi Bar in 1970, (learned in 1960 from Vilma Machette).
Gary Lind-Sinanian wrote: Wow, not sure where to begin.
Gagik Ginosyan is leading a major effort to revive traditional Armenian dances in Armenia, and now world-wide in Armenian diaspora communities. He has had major impact and traditional dances are part of the school curriculum in Armenia for all children. During the Soviet period the dances were disparaged in favor of balletic ‘national dances’ but they are now respected and taught. For the youth this is both a ‘getting in touch with our roots’ and is also a generational identity maker, distinguishing the post-soviet generation. “These are the dances of our great-grandparents, once lost, now found again. We celebrate our culture’.
Gagik has created professional recordings of many of the dances he teaches and uses for performances, which are on youtube for downloading. These recordings are free and accessible for all to help promote the dances, so communities in Yerevan, Moscow, Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, Sydney, etc. all can learn and maintain the dances. An Armenian from Marseilles can go to Ontario and jump right in…they know the same repertoire. Gagik doesn’t bother with commercial CDs and the like. His interest is in promoting the dances, and many performance groups use his Karin Ensemble as their role model.
The music at the St. Gregory the Enlightener picnic in NOT a Papuri, despite the wrong name on the original John Vartan recording. The music is the ‘Bijo’ from Kharad, and the dancers are performing the Bijo dance, still done in NYC. It is not a Papuri.
The melody Papuri has two major forms. The older melody was simpler and more repetitive. This is the traditional form that Gagik Ginosyan uses. The dance he teaches is of the Moush/Bitlis style. (there are different versions).
To further confuse the issues, in the 1950s the Armenian musicians in Philadelphia substituted a ‘Sheikhani’ melody for the older melody. This new version is now the ‘standard Papuri’ in the United States. The musical substitution is now only remembered by people in their 80s and everyone younger assumes that the new version is the traditional Papuri. It is not.
Then there’s the ‘Karsi Bar’ debacle, which only exists among IFD dancers. No Armenan-American would ever confuse it with a Papuri melody, or do the dance to that melody. It’s strictly an IFD problem. But once the wrong info and music is used it gains a life of it’s own, for better or worse.
The Papuri performed by Bill and Karen Faust is the traditional “Khorkom Papuri’ but they use the incorrect ‘Karsi Bar’ music.
The John Bilezikian recording is ‘Karsi Bar’ and a Karsi Bar dance would be danced to it, not Papuri.
The John Filich syllabus is to a traditional ‘Moush/Bitlis Papuri’, similar to the version Gagik teaches.
The Tineka Van Geel syllabus is also a dance related to the ‘Moush/Bitlis’ version, but is a bit more elaborate.
The youtube of the Ontario dancers- the dance is the old ‘Moush/Bitlis’ version, but the melody is the more modern post ’50s Papuri that is played everywhere today.
As for the Tuscon group’s dance? The melody is ‘Karsi Bar’ but the dance is not. It almost looks like a Syrian Dabka. Whatever it is, it’s from somewhere south of Historical Armenia. I can’t be more specific.