Youth Outreach Network Celebrates New Center

The pint-sized posse of breakdancers known as the Tiny Toones celebrated the opening of their new Chamkar Mon district home with flair Monday night.

Using both choreographed and freestyle moves, Tiny Toones dan­cers pounded out a colorful blur of footwork, freezes, flips and turns, showcasing their hip-hop skills under the glare of two spotlights.

Tuy Sobil, a returnee from the US more commonly known as Kay-Kay to the kids, started Tiny Toones a little more than three years ago. Once a well-known breakdancer in Long Beach, in the US state of California, he started teaching Khmer youth his moves after returning to Phnom Penh.

What started with a core group of nine children who took lessons from Tuy Sobil in his home has now developed into an outreach network for urban youth with about 60 regular attendees, he said. That level of popularity made the nightly dance and life-coaching sessions too large to cram into Tuy Sobil’s apartment.

The new space is a rented, two-story traditional Khmer house near Phsar Tuol Tumpoung run by the NGO Bridges Across Borders. And while it’s still in the same neighborhood where Tuy Sobil and his wife live, it represents big changes, he said.

Some of those changes are physical. Before, the group practiced in what amounted to Tuy Sobil’s living room, with only a single fan to keep the dancers cool during workouts. Now, the group will have two tiled dance floors outside the house. There will also be extras: a basketball court, a DJ booth, a computer lab and language-lesson classroom space.

As a result, classes in computers, Khmer, music and different genres of dance will now be offered on a regular basis in addition to the education the Tiny Toones kids already receive in English, HIV-AIDS, gangs and drugs. One of the main Tiny Toones rules is that it’s a strictly drug-free environment.

The funding came from the McKnight Foundation, East Asiatic Company Foundation and Arts Network Asia, and it’s a sign that donors are buying into the value of the Tiny Toones organization, said David Pred, country director for Bridges Across Borders, the organization that will run the center.

“Tiny Toones has such incredible potential to be a leading positive force for this city’s youth and beyond,” Pred said.

“Having a center makes all the difference in the world. Now Tiny Toones has a strong foundation from which to grow, and grow it will.”

It’s an exciting prospect, Tuy Sobil said.

“[The kids] are more at home now, and they have other choices of things to do now—not just dancing—and now we have a real floor to breakdance on,” he said. “I love it. The kids love it.”

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