Sabre Dance

"Sabre Dance" (Armenian: Սուսերով պար, Suserov par; Russian: Танец с саблями, Tanets s sablyami) is a movement in the final act of Aram Khachaturian's ballet Gayane (1942), where the dancers display their skill with sabres.[2] It is Khachaturian's best known and most recognizable work.[3][4] He apparently felt that its popularity "deflected attention from his other works."[5]

The cover of a 1953 record of the "Sabre Dance" by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra[1]

Its middle section is based on an unnamed Armenian folk song.[2][6] According to Tigran Mansurian, it is a synthesis of an Armenian wedding dance tune from Gyumri tied in a saxophone counterpoint "that seems to come straight from America."[7]

"Sabre Dance" is considered one of the signature pieces of twentieth-century popular music.[8] It was popularized by covers by pop artists,[9] first in the US and later in other countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany. Its use in a wide range of films and television series over the decades have significantly contributed to its renown.[10] Sabre Dance has also been used by a number of figure skaters from at least five countries in their performances. Tom Huizenga of NPR describes it as "one of the catchiest, most familiar—perhaps most maddening—tunes to come out of the 20th century."[11] Billboard magazine calls it "a piece that's known to every pops orchestra in existence."[12]

Hit in the USEdit

In 1948[13] the "Sabre Dance" became a jukebox hit in the United States.[14][15] Due to its popularity, Newsweek suggested that 1948 could be called "Khachaturian Year in the United States."[16] That year three versions of the "Sabre Dance" reached number one in the Billboard Best-Selling Records by Classical Artists:

These three versions were included in Year's Top Selling Classical Artists by Billboard in 1948.[21] The "Sabre Dance" became the first million-selling record of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.[22] According to the Current Biography Yearbook, it was Levant's performance that "received popular attention."[23]

Hit in the UKEdit

The version by Love Sculpture reached No. 5 in the UK Singles Chart in December 1968.[24]


In popular cultureEdit

The "Sabre Dance" has been used in numerous films, animated films, television series, video games, and commercials over the years, oftentimes for humorous effects.[67] The piece's popular familiarity has been enhanced by its traditional use as accompaniment by travelling circuses and on television variety shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show when novelty acts such as plate spinners appeared.[11]

Some notable television shows that have used it include The Jack Benny Program (1961), A Piano in the House from The Twilight Zone (1962), The Onedin Line (1971 and 1972), The Benny Hill Show (1985), Our Very First Telethon episode of Full House (1990), The Simpsons (1991), Two and a Half Men (2004), What's New, Scooby-Doo? (2004), "Peterotica" episode of Family Guy (2006), SpongeBob SquarePants (2007), and The Big Bang Theory (2009).[68] The song was featured in The Amazing Race 28, when teams travelled to Armenia and had to search the Yerevan Opera Theater for their next clue.

On June 6, 2013 on the 110th anniversary of Khachaturian’s birthday a modern take of the Sabre Dance—Sabre Dance on the Street—was performed at Yerevan Cascade by Barekamutyun dance ensemble and Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra.[69][70][71]


Films in which the "Sabre Dance" was used include The Barkleys of Broadway (1949), One, Two, Three (1961), The System (1964), The Seven Brides of Lance-Corporal Zbruyev (1970),[72] Amarcord (1973), Well, Just You Wait! 6th episode "Countryside" (1973), Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985), Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986), Repentance (1987), Punchline (1988), Hocus Pocus (1993), Radioland Murders (1994), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994),[73] Don't Drink the Water (1994), I Married a Strange Person! (1997), Vegas Vacation (1997), A Simple Wish (1997), Blues Brothers 2000 (1998), The Lion King 1½ (2004), Kung Fu Hustle (2005), Scoop (2006), Sicko (2007), Ghost Town (2008), Witless Protection (2008), Le Concert (2009), Pájaros de papel (2010), Sabre Dance (2015).[67] In his frenzied comedy One, Two, Three, director Billy Wilder used the dance repeatedly for comic effect, including a crazed chase through East Berlin, and the chaotic closing ride to the airport featuring James Cagney and Horst Bucholz. It was also played briefly in Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted.

Video gamesEdit

Video games in which the "Sabre Dance" was used include:

In sportsEdit

The National Hockey League (NHL)'s Buffalo Sabres have used the piece as a theme song since the team was established in 1970.[74] After a hiatus, the "Sabre Dance" was again made their theme song in 2011.[75][76]

In 2010–13, the "Sabre Dance" became popular in the city of Donetsk, Ukraine, because it was played in Donbass Arena, the venue of FC Shakhtar Donetsk, whenever the Armenian football player Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored a goal.[77]

The "Sabre Dance" was featured in the 2014 Winter Olympics opening ceremony held in Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi, Russia on February 7.[78][79]

Figure skatingEdit

The "Sabre Dance" has been used by numerous figure skaters, including:

Season(s) Athlete(s) Country Competition Ref
1981–82 Natalia Bestemianova   Soviet Union free skating
1986 Suzanne Semanick
Scott Gregory
  United States 1986 U.S. Figure Skating Championships [80]
1986–88 Debi Thomas   United States [81]
1994 Scott Hamilton   United States [82][83]
1993–94 Michelle Kwan   United States short program [84]
1998–99 Johnny Weir   United States short program [85]
1999–00 Evgeni Plushenko   Russia short program [86]
2001–02 Stanislav Morozov
Aliona Savchenko
  Ukraine short program [87]
2001–02 Takahiko Kozuka   Japan short program [88]
2004–05 Stanislav Morozov
Tatiana Volosozhar
  Ukraine free skating [89]
2004–05 Daisuke Takahashi   Japan short program [90][91]
2005–06 Takahito Mura   Japan short program [92]
2006–07 Maximin Coia
Adeline Canac
  France free skating [93]
2007–08 Ryuju Hino   Japan short program
2012–13 Yulia Lipnitskaya   Russia short program [94][95]
2013–14 exhibition [96]


  1. ^ "Classical Selections of EP Singles ...". Billboard. August 29, 1953. p. 29.
  2. ^ a b "2011–2012 Concerts for Young People: Aram Khachaturian (1903–1978) "Sabre Dance" from Gayane" (PDF). Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. p. 4. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 12, 2014. The "Sabre Dance" is in the final act. It is where the dancers display their skills with sabres. Its middle section is based on an Armenian folk song ...
  3. ^ Frolova-Walker, Marina (Summer 1998). ""National in Form, Socialist in Content": Musical Nation-Building in the Soviet Republics". Journal of the American Musicological Society. University of California Press on behalf of the American Musicological Society. 51 (2): 362. doi:10.2307/831980. JSTOR 831980. ... Khachaturian's most popular piece, the Sabre Dance ...
  4. ^ Robinson, Harlow (2013). "The Caucasian Connection: National Identity in the Ballets of Aram Khachaturian". In Kanet, Roger E. (ed.). Identities, Nations and Politics After Communism. Routledge. p. 23. ISBN 9781317968665. ...particularly the "Sabre Dance," which became the single most recognized piece of Khachaturian...
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  6. ^ "Sabre Dance from Gayane". Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra. Archived from the original on 11 September 2014. The well-known “Sabre Dance” is one of these: an aggressive Armenian war-dance with flashing sabres brandished throughout. The outer sections are based upon a wild ostinato figure punctuated by trombone smears. There is a brief moment of contrast at the center, with a quotation of an Armenian folk song.
  7. ^ In the documentary Khachaturian (2003, directed by Peter Rosen), Tigran Mansurian states: "What an interesting synthesis! He's taken a melody from Gyumri, an Armenian wedding dance tune ... and he's tied in a saxophone counterpoint that seems to come straight from America. The relationship between the two seems so organic, so interesting!" The film is available online here Archived 2014-10-06 at the Wayback Machine. Mansurian appears at around 33:00.
  8. ^ Adalian, Rouben Paul (2010). Historical Dictionary of Armenia. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 381. ISBN 978-0-8108-7450-3. As for the Sabre Dance from Gayane, it has entered the realm of popular music as one of the 20th century's signature pieces.
  9. ^ Staines, Joe (2010). The Rough Guide to Classical Music. Penguin. ISBN 9781405383219. Filled with a sparkling array of folk-inspired tunes, its most famous episode, the manic “Sabre Dance”, has had a life of its own, even materializing as a pop single.
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  12. ^ "Casey At The Bat". Billboard. 15 September 2007. p. 103.
  13. ^ "Soviets throw book at Beria". Life. New York. December 28, 1957. p. 17. Meanwhile a musical revolt was stirred up in Russia by Aram Khachaturian, one of the U.S.S.R.'s leading composers, who wrote the U.S. juke box favorite of 1948, Sabre Dance.
  14. ^ Taruskin, Richard (2009). Music in the Late Twentieth Century: The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-19-979600-7. Khachaturian .. famous in the West for some colorful concertos and a ballet suite containing a rousing "Sabre Dance" that became a jukebox hit.
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  16. ^ "Juke-Box Red". Music. Newsweek. 31. New York. 1948. p. 72. ...the music agenda in this country shows plenty to indicate that 1948 may be Khachaturian Year in the United States.
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  18. ^ "Retail Record Sales: Best-Selling Records by Classical Artists". Billboard. 26 June 1948. p. 27.
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