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Cambodian Educational Spotlight Feature

Classical Cambodian Dance

Join Chandra Chuon and Khemera Dance Troupe as they share classical Cambodian dance, an art form that dates back as far as the Angkor Empire between the 9th and 15th centuries. Originally choreographed and performed for the king and his guests, most of the Cambodian public were not able to experience the dance until the 1950’s. The art form is believed to be a bridge between heaven and earth. Learn more about the history and dance moves in the video below.



Khemera Dance Troupe

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The Khemera Dance Troupe was founded in the spring of 2000. Since that time, the troupe has been working to preserve the ancient dances of Cambodia; sharing the art form with residents of Utah and it’s neighboring states.

Cambodian Classical Dance

Cambodian classical dance dates to the great Angkor Empire (9th-15th Century). Through the centuries, this delicate art form was reserved for the King and his honored guests. Used as a bridge between the ruler and his ancestors, these dances were used in many royal court ceremonies requesting peace, prosperity, and an abundant harvest from the spiritual realm. If the spirits appreciated the performances, it was believed that they would bless the country and fulfill the King’s requests. In the 1950s, this sacred art form exited the walls of the Khmer Palace when Queen Sisowath Monivong Kossamak Nearirath led her granddaughter, the late Princess Norodom Bopha Devi, and her troupe to a tour in Europe.

In the 1970s, during the time of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime, many Cambodians were executed. Among the individuals targeted were Cambodian classical dance performers where one in ten dancers perished during this dark era in Cambodian history.  Since that time, there has been a big push to revive this delicate art form. The dances, however, face a new obstacle, competing with modern forms of entertainment such as movies and television.

In classical Cambodian dance—which was traditionally performed only by women—performers portrayed various roles such as gods, goddesses, kings, queens, ogres/giants, monkeys, along with many other characters. Performers use costumes, gestures, and precise movements to portray each role.  

The gestures, hand movements, and even a slight tilt of the head allow the performer to portray emotions and guide the audience to understand the story being told.

Many forms of symbolism are associated with the classical costumes. In full regalia, depicting celestial beings or members of the royal family, the heavy hand-woven silks used along with the hand-beaded items typically depict the scales of the great naga, or dragon, in Khmer mythology. Ancient Khmer legend tells a story of a prince who falls in love with the naga princess, which is believed to be the origins of the Khmer people. Traces of the naga are seen throughout Cambodia and its culture; guarding palace and temple entrances, portrayed in wedding ceremonies, and even Cambodian dance costumes and 2

From a distance, the repetitive floral patterns beaded on the dance outfits resemble the scales of the great naga. As you look closer at the motif, you will see that each scale depicts a flower, which is believed to be the lotus. The lotus is found in many sacred artifacts as they lift the higher being. Beading the lotus motif surrounds the dancer with this flower, elevating them to the heavens.

Cambodian classical dance is accompanied by the Pin Peat ensemble—one of the most revered orchestras in Cambodia. The Pin Peat is a percussive orchestra. The songs for each dance are different and certain patterns are used in every song that define when a performer enters, exits, and depicts when performers portray movements like crying, flying, or walking, etc.

Classical dance continues to define the cultural identity and legacy of the Khmer people.


What People are Saying

The diversity of the dancers really spoke to my students! It was great to see boys and girls dancing, and different races. The high level of engagement was so refreshing and got students excited about thecontent.
This activity was valuable because it helped students make connections between dance, rhythm, healthy lifestyles, and expression. The students were impressed by the talent of the dancers and it was motivating to them.
Opportunities for art and expression are so limited at school but so essential and valuable for all students, especially those who struggle to learn through traditional methods. My Kindergarteners have been dancing since you left!
This was so engaging. I looked around the auditorium and every student was watching. Not one person was talking or distracted
This activity is valuable to teachers and students because it gives them a creative outlet. We need movement in the classroom to engage, energize and deepen student learning.
I got great ideas on how to incorporate movement into math and science lessons.
I loved how you made movement and exercise relatable to the students. The dancers were full of energy and there was very little down time so students stayed engaged.
Our children were captivated by the performance. They listened to you and they were learning without knowing. They usually giggle when bodies are shown and talked about. But the way you presented it was so tastefully done, they now do poses and movement around the room and outside. You brokesome barriers and they took that permission and literally ran with it!