One of the only men who participated with the South Bend Folk Dancers while Chiara, Jennie, and I were conducting our research was Sahag Oxian. His Turkish, Macedonian, Greek, and Armenian backgrounds provided him with a wealth of historical information on each of the dances we performed. Even more, his enthusiasm for Eastern European culture was contagious! Because Sahag was so willing to share his knowledge with us at the dance sessions on Tuesday evenings, we decided to interview him separately to find out a little more about his personal relationship with folk dancing and the significance it has in his life.
At noon on Wednesday, April 12th, Sahag met Chiara and Jennie in the Holy Cross parlor. We recorded our interview, which was about an hour and five minutes. Here is a 10 minute excerpt from the interview. During our interview, Sahag elaborated on the different types of dances, their characteristics, as well as his love of folk dancing.
Here is an reduction of the transcription of an excerpt from our recorded interview.
Jennie: How many years have you been dancing with this group or not necessarily with this group?
Sahag: I started in 1978. That was the year the dance group was first organized. It was either ‘77 or ‘78, so I’ve been dancing for almost forty years.
Chiara: When did you come to the United States and what made you come to South Bend in particular?
Sahag: I came when I was fourteen years old. I have relatives who lived here and I came over with my parents and my siblings. The first dancing I did was Greek and Armenian because I’m part Armenian, but the dances are very similar.
Chiara: How are are they similar?
Sahag: Well the steps and the rhythm are similar. There are differences in the two. Greek [dancing] has more uneven rhythms. Armenian rhythms are more regular than Greek. Greek has rhythms like 5/4, 7/4, 9/4, Armenian is mostly 2/4, or 4/4, or 6/8, so it’s more even.
Nobody taught me the dance, I watched people dance. See, people got together. First there were family gatherings, then there were festivals and Saints days, and holidays, like Christmas, after Easter, and picnics in the park, and you watch and you pick up the steps. Once in awhile somebody would show me the steps, an adult. I started out, probably I was about four years old when I first started dancing, and you just watch and you just pick it up.
There’s no actual teaching, that’s how it is for most natives, or ethnics. No, there are difficult dances which dance groups perform, but that’s different, they’re much harder, but the ordinary dances that everybody does usually have easier steps. Everybody joins in, has fun.