Art

Cambodian Classical, Folk, and Social Dance

When we talk about Arts, the first thing that comes to our mind is dance. Dance is the largest and most popular branch of arts with classical, folk, and social dance being the most popular of that graceful art form in Cambodia.

Apsara

Apsara sculpture

The Cambodian royal family is heavily engaged in classical dance, and it has been a tradition since ancient history. The sculptures of heavenly women dancing appear frequently on the walls of Cambodian temples, and they reflect/influence the classical dance we see today.

Classical Dance

This is the more elegant and slower type, if compared to a folk dance, and is the most formal of the three types. One dance that everyone should know about is the Royal Ballet of Cambodia. It is probably the oldest and most influential dance in our country, and serves to entertain in formal occasions, including those celebrated at the Royal Palace. It’s alternatively called “Apsara dance”.

The dancers are called Apsara, which means “heavenly women” in Khmer. Thus, you can imagine how ancient the dance is for it to be depicted in temples that are hundreds of years old. The real, human dancers look very similar to those depicted in the sculptures; see the video of Princess Bopha Devi performing it. Back in history, the Kings always took the dancers with them whenever they moved the capital/palace so that they continued to entertain them.

There is also a shorter classical dance, called “Blessing dance”. It is similar to the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, but its main purpose is to give blessings, as well as to begin a ceremony. Please, see the video to see how different it is to the Apsara dance.

As you can see, both dances are slow, elegant and very precise; learning the dances will require attention to detail. They have those characteristics because Cambodian women are expected to be that way — elegant, polite and gentle, at least in the past.

Folk Dance

This is a more contemporary type, as the name suggests. The dances normally have a storyline and reflect the people’s lifestyle. For example, a popular and fun one is called Coconut Dance. There are plenty of coconuts in Cambodia and the dance celebrates that fact. Since the coconut shells make noise or music, depending on which perspective you’re looking from, farmers use them to celebrate the end of a tiring day and relax. It is normally seen in ceremonies too, such as at a wedding and at a New Year celebration.

Social Dance

This type is the least formal one and is enjoyed at family or community gatherings. The main goal for anyone to dance is for FUN! Anyone can dance this type, not only because it is easy to learn, but also because all you need to do is move your body the way you see other people move. However, this is no way similar to K-pop or that sort. Each dance has a few moves and you repeat those moves throughout the song. The video below shows one dance.

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Our Correspondent
Cult Cambodia correspondent
Vilayvann -

Born and raised in the debris of the French colony in Cambodia, I grew up to be the least girlish girl or the most manly girl in the world, as described by my friends, just because I never had dolls or those ...

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About this place

Continent: Asia
Capital: Phnom Penh
Population: 14,453,700
Area: 181,040 km2
Currency: Riels
Languages: Khmer

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