More than 100 youths gathered Saturday on Phnom Penh’s bustling Sisowath Quay to convey a message about environmental responsibility through dance.
Their performance, which attracted a crowd of several hundred spectators, realized the vision of England’s Stephen Bimson, a professional dancer who, after years of study at London’s Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance, decided to come to Cambodia and use dance as a tool to empower youth.
“This is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Mr Bimson, 28, said. His passion led him to create a project that pooled young people from different NGO schools and homes in Phnom Penh to learn and perform a dance piece with a message of respecting nature. “I don’t care what societal level kids come from—they can all do something together.”
The students, aged 6 to 20, from five NGOs—Seametry Children’s Village, Empowering Youth Cambodia, Aziza’s Place, Chibodia, and Khmer Development of Freedom Organization—shone in Saturday’s performance after practicing twice a week for nine weeks.
It was the moment Mr Bimson had waited months for. But it wasn’t about him.
“It’s about the kids. It’s about teaching them not only body language and skill, but also self-worth, respect, punctuality and dedication…about standing in front of a room and being noticed, which is very empowering for kids who normally aren’t,” Mr Bimson said.
Teachers noticed the project’s positive effects had carried over to the classroom.
“The dance is healthy for the kids; some from rough situations used to be shy and inhibited but now can stand in front of many people with pride, as if the dance set them free,” said 30-year-old Somphors Un, a teacher at Chibodia, which provides education to orphaned and impoverished children.
The dance number, set to a mix of classical music, African drums and spoken narrative, had an ecological subtext: It followed the chronology of the Earth’s creation, explored the balance between humans and nature, and delved into contemporary environmental issues.
In short: “It’s about the human need to adapt,” said Mr Bimson.
With its natural-moving style, the dance communicated through gestures traditional Cambodian activities such as fishing and farming, as well as contemporary Western elements.
The students blossomed under the spotlight, with some having serious potential to pursue the discipline if given the resources, according to Mr Bimson.
“I wanted to learn a different kind of dance besides Khmer,” said one of the group’s star dancers, 15-year-old Hong Buncheng. “Before, I felt lonely, but I have gained friends through dance, which has also helped me in school, especially with listening and focus. I’d like to continue [dance] if there’s a place where I can.”
Mr Bimson likely won’t rest until there is.
The group will also perform Sunday, July 31, at Olympic Stadium.