The martial play-dance “Yarkhushta” belongs to the class of clap dances and stands out with its unique structure, its playful, musical and folkloric texts and the colorful style of its performance. Clap dances are a type of Armenian martial dances which are characterized by claps of facing couples. These claps imitate the passage of arms. Among Armenian martial clap dances are “Kharzani Yarkhushta” or “Taq Yarkhushta”, “Slivani Yarkhushta”, “Machino”, “Mndo”, “Hala Kshta”, “De bjhan bjhan”.
We distinguish two kinds of clap dances according to the way the claps are performed: claps with one hand and claps with both hands. One-hand claps describe a situation when one of the parties attacks and the other defends himself. In case of both-hand claps, both parts are attackers, they both attack, fight and defend at the same time.
The martial play-dance “Yarkhushta” was popular in Sasun. The name of the dance had different interpretations, among which is the one which says it means “comrade-in-arms”. “Yar” is a Persian word which means “beloved, friend”, and “khysht, khshtik” mean “a short spear, weapon”. The terms “play” and “dance” are synonyms. “Yarkhushta” is a kind of game which represents something between a game and a dance or the process of passing from one to another. This martial game is characterized by dramatized pantomimic dialogues between individuals and groups, duels, competitions, fighting game, competitive spirit, the presence of winning and losing parts.
The players were divided into two groups. Three claps of the warriors declared the start of the game, after which they attacked each other in a direct line, clapped three times and withdrew. All this was performed very rhythmically, accompanied by singing and dancing. This rhythmic game continued until one of the sides felt defeated.
Those who played “Yarkhushta”, used to wear military clothes and a dagger.
In time, the playful elements of Yarkhushta movements have given way to their dancing nature. Dancers are arranged in a circle, which at times is dissembled and rearranged into two parallel facing lines. These two lines approach each other, as if attacking each other, collide with claps and retreat. The lines are dissembled dancing and rearrange into a circle. The main structure of the dance is like this: a circle – two lines – a circle. The sequence of these arrangements seems to symbolize the notion of universal infinity. The main steps of “Yarkhushta” are interrupted by claps of facing rivals hitting the ground with one knee. The dance forms follow each other in the sequence typical of traditional dance. But free improvisation is also present, especially in round dance. The dancers can make turns, clap, lower their hands, change their position before rearranging into the next line. This is the part of the dance when the warriors as if prepare for the attack. It starts after the lines are dissembled.
According to the composer Spiridon Meliqyan, the musical measure of “Yarkhushta” is 2/4. It starts in a moderate tempo and gradually becomes faster. In the old, “Yarkhushta” used to be performed accompanied by a song. The text of the song is very short, and it keeps repeating:
The meaning of the words is unknown. Probably it symbolizes an appeal for war. The performance of the dance was accompanied by drum and zurna, which has enriched the folk music and made the dance complete.
“Yarkhushta” is one of those unique, traditional dances, which has undergone little changes. It is popular also in scenic dance art. In 1930- ies it was staged by Srbouhi Lisitsyan and Vahram Aristakesyan.