“It is impossible to see human nature carried to such perfection (…) There are so many who claim to have beauty, but who don’t give it. But the King of Cambodia gives it to us. Even the children are great artists. This is absolutely unimaginable!” –Wrote Augusta Rodin after seeing Cambodian dancers perform in Marseilles.
The origins of Khmer dance dates back to the first century—making it one of the world’s oldest dance tradition. It is a highly expressive form of art, a beautiful celebration of movement and storytelling, and an intimate part of Cambodian culture and life; whether it is being performed for a festival or for religious purposes. It is artistry in motion and is distinguished by its elegant and graceful movements; which are as intricate and detailed as it’s beautifully elaborate costumes. This highly stylized and refined form of dance consists of approximately 4000 different gestures.
Though the Royal Cambodian Ballet is perhaps the most traditional form of Cambodian dance in existence today, dance has always been a revered form of art in Cambodia; something to be enjoyed by people at all levels of society. Royal Court dancers typically trained from age of six and were an established part of the Cambodian king’s court. The performances ranged from being pure dance pieces choreographed for entertainment, to romantic duets, sacred pieces reserved for royal ceremonies, and dance dramas portraying myths and regional legends; all celebrating movement of the human body.
Cambodian dance is also rich in folk tradition. These were dances were choreographed in rural regions of Cambodia for entertainment as well as rituals—used to request rain and a bountiful harvest from the gods and spirits of the regions. Folk dances are typically very fast paced, contrasting from the slow precise movements of dances found in the Royal Court.
Due to its history and unparalleled repertoire in 1960, UNESCO has selected Cambodian Dance as the Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Between 1975 and 1979, one third of Cambodia’s population had tragically perished under the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Ninety percent of the country’s fine artists were executed, leaving only a handful of students and teachers to revive this delicate art form. Due to the arduous work of those who remained—and the dedicated efforts of this present generation—the nearly lost art of Cambodian traditional dance is being taught and performed again; linking past, present and future Khmer generations.