Bringing “shoorch bar” to high school stages

Every year, my school, Bergen County Academies (BCA), holds an assembly titled “International Day of Acceptance” (IDA). This student-facilitated performance is a blend of cultures and backgrounds coming together to bring light to our multicultural community in Hackensack, New Jersey. Following months of preparation – including emails, auditions, practices, dress rehearsals and wardrobe procurement – student groups perform for their fellow students and faculty. Each group receives around five minutes total for their performance, including an introduction to the culture followed by the dance performance. Student leaders choose the melodies, along with choreographing, coordinating and preparing the performances. 

One main emphasis of this assembly is that a student does not need to be a part of a certain ethnicity to join their group. For instance, in my freshman year I chose to perform as part of the Hispanic IDA, dancing styles such as bachata, samba and merengue. Without any Hispanic dance background and just a pure interest in Hispanic culture, I enjoyed getting on stage to perform these various dances. Consequently, I returned the next year as a sophomore and now in my junior year as a co-leader.

While I have enjoyed my time in other groups, since freshman year I have always thought about what it would be like to have my Armenian culture on the BCA stage. There are just a few students with Armenian backgrounds at BCA, probably just six at most throughout all four grades. However, while our numbers are small, my culture is so grand in my heart that it pushed my desire to be represented at the IDA assembly. Just because there is small representation in my school environment, that does not mean that the students shouldn’t learn about our long history of arts and customs. Especially with recent events, and the resilience of Armenians in Armenia and Artsakh alike, it was crucial that I took this step. I put my thoughts into action, and this year I led the first ever Armenian IDA performance along with the help of another fellow Armenian classmate, Heidi Borekciyan.

Heidi Borekciyan and Seta Sahagian

It started with an interest email, the first step in bringing this idea to life. Then came recruitment, gathering my friends of all backgrounds to join. I expressed that this performance was more than a dance and has deeper meaning rooted in our fight as a nation. Then came the practices, staying after school on Tuesday evenings to learn choreography. I decided to combine six different Armenian melodies, including slow rhythms and fast beats. I wanted to capture the full Armenian spectrum, showing the beauty of our instruments that shine through in slower songs and the firm, upbeat nature of our battle or party dances. The choreography included songs from music geniuses such as Ara Gevorgian, Tata Simonyan and Karnig Sarkissian. 

During practices, as we went through the various styles, I would ask students which they liked the best. Many of my friends would say the “shoorch bars,” as they linked pinkies to dance in unison. As a young Armenian, these dances have been a large part of my life, whether at camp, Armenian dances or celebrations. To hear my “odar” (non-Armenian) friends say this made me realize how they can learn about the other half of my life. These friends said, “Now we can do this at your birthday,” or “I remember seeing you do this dance; now we can too.” With all my non-Armenian friends, I will certainly be playing some “Anapati Arev” at our next outing. 

As the performance neared, a lot of attention was placed on cleaning up formations and moves and our appearance on stage. This is where outfits came into question. Outfits would be crucial to fully showcasing the beauty of Armenian dance. I crafted a letter to send via email to various Armenian dance groups to borrow outfits for the performance. As these are important pieces in many groups’ performances, I promised that they would be kept in good condition, and any damage caused by the students would be corrected through payment. Looking to my Armenian community, I hoped that these groups would see the message I was trying to spread within my school walls. Unfortunately, I was faced with blank stares and barriers. Everyone either sought hundreds of dollars, which was not feasible for a student group, or did not respond to our inquiry. 

This experience taught me a great deal about the power of a few – a few thoughts and then a few Armenians coming together to attempt the growth of an idea. A few conversations with my friends turned into dancing together on stage in traditional Armenian dress.

Finally, shortly before the performance, I received an affirmative response. Sylva Asadourian from the Akh’tamar Dance Ensemble graciously allowed us to borrow about two dozen outfits. I am very thankful for her giving nature, for supporting a spark in the Armenian youth. Not only did all the dancers enjoy wearing traditional clothing, admiring the patterns on the skirts, but the audience continuously gave compliments about our appearance in the performance. 

This experience taught me a great deal about the power of a few – a few thoughts and then a few Armenians coming together to attempt the growth of an idea. A few conversations with my friends turned into dancing together on stage in traditional Armenian dress. All these girls came together because of some Armenian girl they knew and an idea she had. I feel lucky to have such committed and educated friends.

It is also important that we learn from our experiences to better our communities and create a future for the youth to take action. As an Armenian school graduate, member of the AYF and child of the Armenian church community, I have been surrounded by the idea of the Armenian community. As the youth, it is our duty to step up and spread the message of our people. We should use our connections to help one another for the united, shared cause to keep our multi-millennia-old identity alive. 

However, as I prepared for this performance, it was difficult for me to utilize these connections, especially when searching for group outfits. As a community, we should not look for profits and or be silent as the diaspora attempts to serve the Armenian community. Our Armenian dance ensembles and organizations are in place in order to educate, share and grow global understanding of the presence of Armenians. With that, actions speak louder than words. Let us help the youth to educate their classmates about Armenia, bring Armenian dance to their schools and continue our fight.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My mom was the backbone in letting this idea become a reality, from helping me choose songs and coordinate outfits to picking me up from school. She had watched me prepare for the four-minute performance for months. As she watched me on stage with 16 other students from my school, I could see her eyes shine. Hints of water reflected through them, as she watched high school students of all backgrounds – Japanese, Indian, Polish and Hispanic – come together for the Armenian cause. Every Armenian parent looks to their child to continue the cause, the fight of our ancestors. I could see the pride in my mother’s eyes and the pride of my great-grandparents from 100 years ago. It made getting on stage and dancing for my school community the most worthwhile.

For all the diasporan Armenians: You will be faced with challenges, whether it is being told “no” or struggling to find those who have a will as strong as yours. Be the one to start the group, reach out and represent our nation in every aspect of your life. The Armenian storybook only comes to life if there are storytellers to teach the tales of our people. Dance, sing, read, write, speak and share in any capacity you can. This is what it means to be Armenian.

Watch the Armenian IDA performance at

Seta Sahagian

Seta Sahagian

Seta Sahagian is 17 years old, a member of the AYF New Jersey "Arsen" Chapter and a graduate of Sipan Armenian School. She attends Bergen County Academies (BCA) in Hackensack, New Jersey.
Seta Sahagian

Latest posts by Seta Sahagian (see all)


  1. Your spirit and pride in Armenian culture are a reflection of your upbringing. It’s such a gift and you’re the perfect ambassador to keep it alive. Congratulations to you and the other students! You make a difference!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.