YEREVAN (A.W.)—There are a lot of things going on below the surface in Yerevan. While most people are stuck on the tourist sites, consumer boutiques, and stereotypes of the past, a new generation of youth are embracing fresh ideas and alternative subcultures.
Case in point: More than 200 people gathered recently for a street dance competition in the heart of Yerevan (just a stone’s throw away from the mayor’s office). The daylong event featured categories such as breaking (commercially known as “breakdancing”), popping, house, and hip-hop.
The energy throughout the crowd was electric as young people went head to head in lively dance battles, showing off their best moves before a three-person panel of judges. Even parents and random passersby got involved in the excitement.
As a breaker myself, I’ve been lucky to be a part of such underground events and see the growth of the scene in Armenia.
In 2005, when I first met dancers here, there were only about 2 or 3 groups with a total number of around 50 breakers in the whole city. No events were possible then. People would just practice together and hang out.
Today, there are at least 10 schools—each with a minimum of 30 students—teaching breaking throughout the country, in places as far out as Charentsavan. Competitions are happening more regularly and the skill level is rising rapidly, too. Local dancers have even started traveling to compete in countries like Georgia, Russia, and Ukraine.
As Gnun “Busy” Kocharyan, an Armenian breaker visiting from Russia, put it, “The existence of breaking in Armenia represents change. I’m happy to see people doing it because it’s a sign that mentalities are changing.”
Indeed, along with the dance styles comes a difference in lifestyle and attitude. Youth in Armenia involved in breaking revere values such as respect, open-mindedness, and self-expression. From the way they dress to the way they interact, they stand apart from the monotonous and often materialist norm in society.
“This dance is about freedom,” said Vardan Tadevosyan, one of the more seasoned breakers in Yerevan. “It doesn’t have any limits. Its possibilities are endless and that’s what attracted me to it. It’s a mentality more than anything.”
“People might look at it funny but this is something we live by,” added Kocharyan, who explained that many Armenian youth in Russia are also into hip-hop.
“There are other Armenians in my dance group and we enter competitions in Russia together under the title of ‘Cilician B-Boys’” Kocharyan told me. “People ask us what that means and it becomes our way of educating them about Armenians.”
Such new forms of expression are giving Armenian youth a positive outlet to channel their energy. Instead of sitting around idle or getting into trouble, they are harnessing their creativity and pushing themselves physically. In the process, many are becoming more empowered to express their voice—both on and off the dance floor.
Personally, I never thought I would find myself in the midst of an up-and-coming breaking movement in Yerevan. But this is one of many ways the youth in Armenia have surprised and inspired me.
There is a new air emerging in the country. You just have to keep your eyes and ear to the ground to see it.