As the founder and director of the Shushi Dance Ensemble, based in New Jersey Seta Kantardjian has made it count through her volunteerism, drawing on her childhood love of dance to connect hundreds of young Armenians to the artistic heritage of their ancestors.
How did you become involved in the AGBU? I grew up in Lebanon and everyone in my family was always very involved with the AGBU. We went to AGBU schools and my brother started an AGBU dance group that eventually became one of the most upscale dance groups in the country. I learned Armenian dance from my brother and, by age 10, I was already teaching a dance class at my alma mater, the AGBU Yervant Demirdjian School.
How has the AGBU helped you achieve your goals? AGBU has given us tremendous support through the years by connecting us with chapters in Montreal, Toronto, the Middle East, and Argentina. We are sharing our culture with the world. Locally, for the past two decades, several of my students have drawn inspiration from their experiences and taught Armenian dance in AGBU camps, passing on our traditions to the next generation. When I see the young campers dancing, I can’t hold back my tears. The unbelievable impact our ensemble is having all over the world would not be possible without AGBU.
What is your favorite AGBU memory? My favorite memory has to be when AGBU facilitated the group’s tour in the Middle East. We traveled to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, performing at the opera house in Damascus and the citadel in Aleppo. We had over 50 dancers. It was unbelievable! No other organization besides AGBU would have been able to pull that off.
Do you have a “philosophy of giving back,” a motto, or a value or act ion you try to incorporate into your volunteer work?
I find other meaningful ways to give back. When I teach dance, I hope I leave behind warm memories and a stronger sense of Armenian identity in everyone I teach, so they will share what they have learned with generations to come.
What part of your Armenian heritage do you most identify with? Without question, my strongest connection to my Armenian heritage is through our beautiful music and dance. The melodies and rhythms connect to my soul. This part of our culture truly transcends time, politics and language barriers.
What are the most difficult challenges you’ve faced in school or your career? Like many people, my most difficult challenges have been time and money. I have a fulltime job and teaching dance is volunteer work. One of the reasons I chose my current job is because it is located near my dance rehearsal space, so I can easily get there after work. When I see the impact the dance group is having in the world, I’m so glad I made those sacrifices.