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Apsara: The Cambodian Dance

 
 

“To dance in Angkor is the dream that every girl has when we start to learn Apsara Dance,” confesses Sopha, a student at one of the oldest traditional court dances in Asia. Apsara dancing, a classical style dating back to the Angkorean era, nearly vanished in the 1970s when the Khmer Rouge regime decimated much of the country’s infrastructure, culture and traditions. Almost 90 percent of Cambodia’s artists and intellectuals were systematically eliminated by the Khmer Rouge, devastating what had been a flourishing artistic community.

In recent years, however, the dance has been making a comeback in Cambodia and is now a common feature of public ceremonies and in hotel lobbies across Cambodia’s most tourist-friendly cities. Yet few people have had the opportunity to watch these incredible dancers perform in what was once their home: the Angkor temples. In these temples – where performances are held for private and exclusive dinners or for important meetings – their ancestral movements match perfectly with the mystical atmosphere that envelops the Cambodian nights.

“I am 75 years old now but I have dreamt of this moment since I was an Apsara student during the French era. I spent all of my life dedicated to dancing and it is now, when I am close to death, when I love to see that at last Cambodia is working to keep our Apsara Dance in the soul of our people forever,” says Rous Sok Khon, one of the most highly respected Apsara dance teachers in Siem Reap, where the Angkor temples can be found.

“I started dancing when I was a little girl. At that time my family was very poor, we had almost nothing to eat. With time and effort, I understood the importance of what we are doing. Thanks to women like Miss Rous Sok our country’s legacy is alive today. Her life is the example to follow for us; she is just one of the very few dancers who survived the genocide. Now I dance to show to the people how rich the history of our country is. Now I dance for Cambodia,” confesses Srey Li, one of the main dancers of Rous Sok’s group.

Apsara: The Cambodian Dance
A troupe of professional dancers performs the Apsara Dance during an exclusive night show in Thomeanon Temple, Cambodia. The dance is led by an Apsara dressed in white describing the beauty and grace of these legendary women with precise movements and gestures, using different combinations and traditions, in accordance with movements of legs and feet, which represent different concepts. Apsara dancing, a classical style dating back to the Angkorean era, nearly vanished during the regime of the Khmer Rouge.
Image Credit: Omar Havana
Apsara: The Cambodian Dance
SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA. A young Apsara student stretches before rehearsals in a local school in Siem Reap, Cambodia. In his Khmer Dictionary, Buddhist patriarch Chuon Nath explained that Apsara is a noun referring to whitish bright and beautiful women in paradise; they can be called Srey Apsara, Srey Tep Apsara, or Neang Apsara.
Image Credit: Omar Havana
Apsara: The Cambodian Dance
An Apsara Dance student practices hands movements under the supervision of one of her teachers during training in a local school in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Hand gestures in Khmer classical dance are called kbach. These hand gestures form a sort of alphabet and represent elements from nature such as fruits, flowers, and leaves.
Image Credit: Omar Havana
Apsara: The Cambodian Dance
A group of Apsara Dance student practice movements with two of their teacher, both former Apsara dancers that survived the Khmer Rouge, during training in a local school.
Image Credit: Omar Havana
Apsara: The Cambodian Dance
A young Apsara dancer performs in Thomeanon Temple while one of the musicians waits to start playing traditional music with his traditional Roneat Thung, a low pitched xylophone used in Khmer classical music, Cambodia.
Image Credit: Omar Havana
Apsara: The Cambodian Dance
A troupe of young traditional dancers performs the popular “Fishing Dance” during a show in Bayon Temple, Cambodia. The Fishing Dance is a traditional folk dance developed in the 1960s, inspired by scenes of rural life and young love in Cambodia.
Image Credit: Omar Havana
Apsara: The Cambodian Dance
Two traditional dancers perform “the dance of the Golden Mermaid” during a show in Thomeanon Temple, Cambodia. The Sovann Machha Dance is a part of a story from the Reamker legend, an epic legend about the struggle between good and evil, which portrays Hanuman, the White Army General Monkey, falling in love with a golden mermaid.
Image Credit: Omar Havana
Apsara: The Cambodian Dance
A troupe of professional dancers performs the Apsara dance during an exclusive night show in Thomeanon Temple, Cambodia. Apsara dancers need to learn 4500 basic gestures to be good dancers. Hand gestures in Khmer classical dance are called kbach. These hand gestures form a sort of alphabet and represent elements from nature such as fruits, flowers, and leaves.
Image Credit: Omar Havana
Apsara: The Cambodian Dance
A troupe of professional Apsara dancers greets guests during an exclusive night dinner in Thomeanon Temple, Cambodia. Few people have the opportunity to watch these incredible dancers perform in what was once their home: the Angkor temples. In these temples performances are held for private and exclusive dinners or for important meetings organised by the top end hotels and travel agencies in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Image Credit: Omar Havana
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