Father of Ballet in Iran

Sarkis Djanbazian was the first ballet master, choreographer, and producer who established a ballet academy in Iran. He was also the first male ballet dancer who performed on stage in different cities in Iran. Owing to his significant contributions to teaching, staging, and raising awareness towards ballet in Iran, Djanbazian is widely regarded as “the Father of Ballet in Iran”.

Sarkis Djanbazian was born on January 15, 1913 in Armaveer in Armenia. From early childhood, he took an avid interest in the arts especially in dance. After graduating from high school, he went to Leningrad to study dance. He graduated from Vaganova Dance Academy of Leningrad and from Lesgaf University with a Masters of Arts degree. After graduation, he worked as a principal dancer, choreographer, and artistic director in Kirov Theatre in Leningrad until July of 1938.

Under the pressure of Russian government on Armenians, he and his family, left Russia in 1938 and migrated to Iran. As a result of Iranian immigration laws of the time, he could not settle in Tehran immediately and went to Ghazvin. This was a huge change in setting, social mentality, and opportunities for Djanbazian. He decided to establish a dance school, to form a dance group, and to stage performances in Ghazvin. At that time, women dancing on a stage in Ghazvin seemed unimaginable. Djanbazian later recounted for the reporters what he faced when he met with the city council of Ghazvin to obtain permission to establish a dance school:

City Representative: “What do you do?”

Djanbazian: “I am a director.”

City Representative: “What is a director?”

Djanbazian: “I teach ballet.”

City Representative: “What is ballet?”

Djanbazian: “Ballet is an art form where dance…”

City Representative (yelling): “You should be ashamed! With this huge body, you want to teach dance!?”

And at this point, Djanbazian was thrown out of the office. But he was determined to establish his school and plan performances. At that time, the Armenian Church in Ghazvin did not view Armenian refugees from Russia favorably, and he was not allowed to have a dance school at the church environment. The priest, however, was very kind to Djanbazian and showed respect and affection towards his pursuit of training the art of dance. Therefore, without consulting with the Church’s advisory board, the priest allowed Djanbazian to hold his dance classes on the rooftop of the Church. For weeks, Djanbazian had to carry the smaller students up a ladder to the rooftop to ensure their safe attendance in the classes. Interestingly enough, the daughter of the city representative who had initially thrown Djanbazian out of his office joined his class. He finally managed to stage a few dance performances which were well-received.

Djanbazian left Ghazvin for Tehran and pursued his dream of establishing a dance academy. He faced many challenges in Tehran where he held classes in Kooshesh Armenian high school; after the hours, students had to remove all chairs and desks to make room for rehearsals and put them back everyday. He continued his efforts with energy and optimism until he managed to establish Tehran Ballet School in 1942 in Tehran. At the beginning, the progress was very slow, and he received neither financial reward nor respect for what he was doing.

Gradually, enrollment in the school increased and he started to plan performances. Djanbazian staged many full length ballets such as Pushkin’s “Fountain of Baghchehsarai”, “Dreams of Hafez”, and Gleer’s “Chinese Flower Girl” as well as several classical and traditional dance pieces including “Gole Gandom”, “Life and Death” (widely known as “Snake Dance”), Ghaliyeh Kerman”, and “Shalikari”. He loved Iranian culture, and he made an effort to incorporate Iranian themes and stories in his work. Despite his lack of fluency in Persian, his interest in Persian literature led him to the production and staging of “Rostam and Tahmineh” ballet based on a story from Shahnameh in collaboration with Ehsan Yarshater. Over the course of his career, he collaborated with many artists and intellectuals of the time.

Djanbazian founded the Folk Dance and Song Ensemble conducted by maestro Edik Hovespian in 1959. Later on, this ensemble continued their performances under the direction of maestro Hovik Gasparian at the second national dance festival in Iran in 1962.

Over the course of 27 years, Djanbazian staged over 100 pieces and influenced the way dance was viewed in Iranian society. Prior to Djanbazian’s work, dance in Iran was merely viewed as an entertainment and looked down upon as a profession. Djanbazian’s efforts and his teaching style and dedication brought recognition and respect for dance as an art form and encouraged people to seek dance education and training and to pursue a career as a professional dancer, choreographer, or an educator in Iran. Many of his students established themselves with successful careers in dance inside and outside Iran.

At the age of fifty, Sarkis Djanbazian died of heart attack on December 11, 1963 in Tehran.


  1. “Djanbazian Dance Academy, the 60th Anniversary” booklet, 2002, California.
  2. Iraj Nabavi, “Ballet, Master Djanbazian”, Afarin, 1954, p. 12.
  3. “The Beginning Lies in the End” (DVD), 2002, California.
  4. Interview with Anna Djanbazian, 2008.
  5. “An Hour in Djanbazian Academy”, Sepid o Siah, no. 292, 20 Farvardin 1338, p. 32-34.
  6. Bijan Emami, “The Life and Death of the Master”, Sobhe Emrooz, no. 90, 27 Aban 1342.

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