A Dance of the Heart

prey samrong village, Kompong Speu pro­vince – “TCHUK, TCHUK, TCHOOK, TCHOOK, TCHUK, TCHUK, TCHOOK, TCHOOK…”

On goes the Ong Reh dance. The music played by the Pinpeat Orchestra is quick, and the long bamboo poles are struck on the ground and against each other fast. But the young girls and boys jumping across and between them are faster.

Their joyful laughing faces show very clearly that we are not watching a well-preserved piece of cultural heritage performed at a hotel restaurant. Keeping the tradition of classical Khmer dance alive in Prey Samrong village, about 30 km west of Phnom Penh, is a matter of heart and soul.

The children and young people who practice this intricate skill learn more than how to move hands and feet gracefully with the music. They learn how to enjoy life in a creative and social way, taking care of each other and following rules of companionship, which they learn through strict but loving care.

The group started in the early ’80s, when a few Cambodian refugees founded a fine arts center. Among them was Rath Nim, who is now the director of the dance group.

For Rath Nim and his friends, founding an arts center was a way to survive in the hopeless atmosphere of the camp. They never regretted their initiative. Not only did it make life in the camp easier by having something to live up to, but it also facilitated the group’s reintegration in Cambodia when they re­turned in 1993.

Twenty-two families came to Prey Samrong that year. They have since lived together with the 30 families already living there.

With initial help from the British Embassy and some business groups in Cambodia, the refugee families built a simple dance school in the village. Today about 60 children and adolescents between the ages of 6 and 20 practice Khmer dancing every morning. The teacher carefully follows the old traditions of Khmer classical dance but also frequently invents new styles .

Watching one of the regular dancing lessons indicates how much hard work is behind the graceful movements that seem to come so easily.

After 30 minutes of exercise—often painful for the children—and stretching every joint in the body, the actual dancing lessons begin.

It is serious business for the young girls and boys. A careless tilt of the head or a misplaced foot, if seen, is swiftly punished by a swat and scolding from the Hang Toupy, the teacher.-

Hang Toupy focuses her attention on her individual pupils, one after the other. Many are visibly relieved when their turn is over.

The musical tradition of Cambodia has two main stems: the folk music of the rural Khmer people and other ethnic minorities, and a centuries-old art music tradition associated with the court and urban centers.

The dance group in Prey Samrong practices both types of dance. “Most of us come from the countryside, we are farmers. And the folk dance tradition is not so prohibitive. Dances that were performed in the royal palace require extravagant costumes and must not be changed. We also want to express our needs and thoughts.”

The group has invented some of its own dances such as the “Dance of the Mines”. Based on the popular “White Peace Dove Dance,” it expresses their desire for peace in Cambodia.

The Prey Samrong Dance Group performs primarily in schools, local gatherings and Cambodian feasts. But they are also glad to give a performance on request. Contact: Banleay Priech, House of the Dove”, Tel 368259, 368021, Fax 368165. Emial: [email protected]. It will be worth it.


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