As a group of about 20 colorfully adorned dancers poured into her compound in Phnom Penh’s Toul Kok district on Thursday, Kao Channeary hoped good fortune was coming with them.
The dancers were performing the trot dance, an age-old Khmer New Year holiday tradition believed to bring good luck and prosperity.
“This is our tradition…. We don’t want to update it; we want to preserve it,” said Ms. Channeary, adding that trot dancers had been performing for her over Khmer New Year for about 20 years.
The performance, which involves classical Khmer dance movements, instruments and costume, with the addition of a burst of color and props to bring ancient folklore to life, portrays the tale of a hunter ridding his forest village of a visiting deer, which represents bad luck.
According to Cambodian calendar website Khmer Chhankitek Calendar, hosted by U.S.-based nonprofit Cambodia Coordinating Council, the word “trot” is derived from Sanskrit and means “to end,” in this case to end the previous year.
The dance predates the Angkor era, conventionally dated around 802 CE, the site says.
“This dance was inherited from the people of Somrae, natives of Cambodia thousands of years ago,” it says. “During the Angkor era, the people of Somrae performed this dance for the king at New Year celebrations…. The dance represents the ending of the old year and brings good luck and prosperity for the king in the coming year.”
Keeping the tradition of the trot dance alive in modern Cambodia, Thursday’s group in Phnom Penh was headed by 27-year-old Pho Sophors, who said she had been performing the dance for six years, and had more than 10 years of experience as an Apsara dancer. She also works as a classical Khmer dance teacher for private and public fine art schools in Phnom Penh.
Trot dancing earns the group $400 per private performance, she added.
Ms. Channeary, who identified herself as a businesswoman—though performers outside her compound said they believed she was a government official—handed out small notes of cash with family members to individual dancers at the end of the performance.
“Everyone knows about trot…. But only some families can afford to do it,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Hannah Hawkins)