Robyn Friend is a scholar of Middle Eastern and Balkan linguistics, folklore, and ethnology, with a particular emphasis on the cross-influences of Turkish, Iranian, Balkan, and Central Asian cultures.
She first got interested in the Middle East as a child because of her grandmother, who spoke Turkish, Greek, Bulgarian, and other languages. She has spent more than 40 years learning the cultures of these areas, including extensive travel in the Middle East and Central Asia, earning a Ph.D. in Iranian languages, study “at the foot of a master” learning poetry and singing, 25 years on the board of directors of a charitable arts organization devoted to the culture of Iran and the surrounding area, and extensive teaching.
She has given hundreds of performances as a solo singer and dancer. Her performances and choreographies have garnered rave reviews in venues throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, and the Middle East — such as the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival; The Edinburgh Festival; Sharq Taronalari in Samarqand, Uzbekistan; Los Angeles Dance Kaleidoscope; UCLA’s Royce Hall; the Brooklyn Academy of Music; the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion; and so forth. Her singing repertoire includes the classical music of Iran and Turkey, traditional songs from the Middle East and the Balkans, Romany music, and other European and American repertoire. She released a solo audio CD in 2000, and also 2 DVDs of her dancing and choreographies: Dances of Iran and Dances of Central Asia.
Her dance repertoire includes several styles of Iranian dance (Qajar, Gilaki, Qashqai, etc.), as well as Armenian, Azerbaijani, Uzbek, and Tajik dance. Her video of her solo dancing and choreographies was selected by the International Academy of Middle Eastern Dance (IAMED) as its “entertainment video of the year” for 2001.
She continues her musical studies with noted music and dance masters, learning by rote in the traditional methods. Research trips abroad have been supplemented by years of work with local ethnic communities.
Dr. Friend has studied several languages, including Iranian and Turkic dialects: Persian, Turkish, Suleimaniye Kurdish, Russian, French, Bulgarian, Azeri Turkish, Uzbek, Chaghatay, and Ottoman Turkish. She earned a Ph.D. from UCLA in Iranian languages, where her doctoral dissertation was on the Kurdish dialect spoken in Suleimaniye, Iraq. She has dozens of publications to her credit, in fields ranging from space exploration to the culture of the Iranian community in Los Angeles. Several of her publications are available through her web site.
She began dancing as a child, with noted teachers such as Jerry Salkin, Mary Claire Sale, and Leslie Ruchala. As an adult, her teachers have included Leona Wood, Haleh Farjah, Medea Mahdavi, Aisha Ali, Morocco, and many other Iranian and Turkish dancers.
She is a student of the renowned Uzbek dance master Viloyat Akilova. Viloyat selected Robyn to the be transmitter of her family’s “signature dance”, Shodiyana, a dance in Bukhara style that was made famous by Viloyat’s mother, transmitted exclusively by her to Viloyat, and now by Viloyat exclusively to Robyn.
Other recognition includes an Apprenticeship Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1985-1986, for the study of classical Persian singing; a citation from the City of Los Angeles, 1987; and notice from the Iranian community in Los Angeles for work teaching Iranian dancing to Iranian children, 2001.
Amongst the groups for which she has developed dance choreographies are the Duquesne University Tamburitzans, Het Internationaal Danstheater of Amsterdam, the Middle East ensemble of the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the AMAN Folk Ensemble of Los Angeles.
She designs and makes all of her own costumes. Dr. Friend also is a certified teacher of Pilates-based body conditioning for dancers, having studied with Marie Jose Blom.
Other artistic endeavors include painting in oils, designing floral arrangements, costuming, creation of “wearable art”, and acting.
She has written more than a dozen books, including science books for children, a chapter in a book about Iranian master musician Morteza Varzi, and a chapter in a book about the regional dances of Iran.
Since 2016, Robyn has worked in collaboration with the Farhang Foundation to provide dancers for the annual Farhang No-Rooz (Persian New Year) celebrations in both Los Angeles County and Orange County. She has also appeared as a solo dancer in Farhang-sponsored events and concerts.
Dr. Friend visited the Soviet Union in 1988, as a guest of the Soviet Space Research Institute “IKI”
- Ph.D., Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (dissertation topic: Kurdish linguistics), University of California at Los Angeles, 1985.
- Master of Arts, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (specialty: Turkic and Iranian languages), University of California at Los Angeles, 1977
- Bachelor of Arts, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (specialty: Persian language), University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), 1975.
Principal Artistic Accomplishments:
- Choreographed suite of Qajar (classical Persian) dances for the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival. Performed both solo singing and dancing in this concert.
- Awarded an Apprenticeship Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1985-1986.
- Choreographed suite of Qashqai (Iranian tribal) dances for performance at UCLA’s Royce Hall, 1989
- Performed at international conference commemorating the 1,000th anniversary of the completion of Ferdowsi’s Shahname.
- Choreographed section for a full-length dance concert on Alexander the Great for the Het Internationaal Danstheater of Amsterdam, which is being performed by them all Europe
- Numerous solo concert appearances, including concerts at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Royce Hall and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (Los Angeles), The Cathedral of St. John the Divine (New York City), and concerts in Europe, the U.S., Canada, and the Middle East.
- Recordings include a video of her solo dancing and choreographies and an audio CD of her singing.
- Teacher of Iranian dancing to the Iranian diaspora community, both adults and children.