[Home] [Photos] [Forum] [Music] [Docs] [Contact] [Members] [Sign In]



Cambodian Culture--Articles inEnglishPosted: 2009-09-22 22:00:58   Replies: 0
Khmer Classical Dance (1)

Khmer classical dance is a form of dance from Cambodia which shares some similarities with the classical dances of Thailand and Laos. The dance form from Cambodia is known by various names in English, such as Khmer royal ballet or Cambodian court dance. In The Cambridge Guide to Theatre and in UNESCO list, it is referred to as the Royal Ballet of Cambodia but UNESCO also uses the term "Khmer classical dance."

In Khmer, it is formally known as robam preah reachea trop which means 'dances of royal wealth'. During the Lon Nol regimeCambodian coup of 1970 of Cambodia, its name was changed to robam kbach boran khmer, literally meaning 'Khmer dance of the ancient style', a term which does not make any reference to its royal past. Being a highly stylized art form and performed mainly by females, Khmer classical dance during the French protectorate era, was confined mainly to the courts of royal palaces being performed by the consorts, concubines, relatives, and attendants of the palace, henceforth the Western names for this art form often make reference to the royal court.

The dance form is also showcased in several forms of Khmer theatre (lkhaon) such as Lkhaon Kbach Boran (the main genre of classical dance drama performed by women) and Lkhaon Khaol (a genre of dance drama performed by men). Khmer classical dancers are often referred to as apsara dancers, which in the modern sense would be incorrect as the apsara is only a type of character performed by the dancers nowadays.


Cambodians scholars, such as Pech Tum Kravel, and French archaeologist George Groslier have mentioned that Khmer classical dance is part of an unbroken tradition dating to the Angkor period. Other scholars theorize that Khmer classical dance, as seen today, developed from, or was at least highly influenced by, Thai classical dance innovations from the 19th century and precedent forms were somewhat different.

One of the earliest records of dance in Cambodia is from the 7th century, where performances were used as a funeral rite for kings and this ritual continues to this day. During the Angkor period, dance was ritually performed at temples. The temple dancers came to be considered as apsaras, who served as entertainers and messengers to divinities. Ancient stone inscriptions, describe thousands of apsara dancers assigned to temples and performing divine rites as well as for the public. The tradition of temple dancers declined during the 15th century, as the Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya raided Angkor. When Angkor collapsed, its artisans, Brahmins, and dancers were taken to Ayutthaya. The tradition of royal court dance however, did continue.

In the 19th century, King Ang Duong, who had spent many years at the Siamese court in Bangkok, restructured his royal court with Siamese innovations. This restructuring also affected the classical dance of the royal court (a symbol of the king's wealth and power) whose costumes were remodelled after Thai classical dance costumes.

In the early 20th, dancers of the court of King Sisowath (second son of King Ang Duong to reign) were exhibited at the French Colonial Exposition in Marseilles where they captured the heart of French artist Auguste Rodin who painted many watercolors of the dancers. Many writers had compared classical dancers to the bas-relief of apsarases which may have led to the strong affinity many people have for the two today. After World War IIWorld War II, Khmer classical dance underwent a renaissance brought on by former Queen of Cambodia, Kossamak Nearireath, the mother of then Prince SihanoukNorodom Sihanouk.

Khmer classical dance suffered a huge blow during the Khmer Rouge regime during which many dancers were killed because classical dance was thought as of an aristocratic institution. Although 90 percent of all Cambodian classical artists perished between 1975 and 1979 after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, those who did survive wandered out from hiding, found one another, and formed "colonies" in order to revive their sacred traditions. Khmer classical dance training was resurrected in the refugee camps in eastern Thailand with the few surviving Khmer dancers. Many dances and dance dramas were also recreated at the Royal University of Fine-Arts in Cambodia. The Royal Ballet of Cambodia was the main troupe of classical dancers in Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge regime, but since Cambodia has gain it's peace, a few other professional and amateur troupes have risen.

Movement and gestures

Khmer classical dancers use stylized movements and gestures to tell a story much like a mime. Many people consider its style vague or abstract. Dancers do not speak or sing; they dance with a slight smile and are never suppose to open their mouths (though a few dramas have brief speaking parts). Khmer classical dance can be compared to French ballet in that it requires years of practice and stretching at a young age so the limbs become very flexible.

Hand gestures in Khmer classical dance are called kbach (meaning style). These hand gestures form a sort of alphabet and represent various things from nature such as fruit, flowers, and leaves. They are used in different combinations, sometimes with accompanying foot movements, to convey different thoughts and concepts. The way in which they are presented, the position of the arm, and the position of the hand relative to the arm can also affect their meaning. Besides hand gestures are gestures which are more specific to their meaning, such as that which is used to represent laughing or flying. These other gestures are performed in different manners depending on which type of character is played.

Characters and costume

Four main types of roles exist in Khmer classical dance; nay rng (men), nang (maidens), yak (ogres or yaksha), and the sva (monkeys). These four basic roles contain sub-classes to indicate rank; a nay rng k, for example, would be a leading male role and a nang philieng would be a maiden-servant. Other types of roles include mermaids, hermits, deer, garudas, and kinnaris. Most of these characters are still performed by female dancers, but a few such as monkey characters are almost exclusively performed by men because this role requires acrobatic stunts such as cartwheels. Other roles performed by men include hermits and animals such as horses and mythical lions used to draw chariots.

Classical dance costumes are highly ornate and heavily embroidered, sometimes including sequins and even semi-precious gems. Various pieces of the costume (such as shirts) have to be sewn onto the dancers for a tight fit.

Angkorwat DVD Store
Cambodia Photos
Khmer Magazines
English-Khmer Dictionary
Cambodian Music
Smaradey Khmer
Phnom Penh
Khmer Dating