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Cambodian Dance

Thursday, February 09, 2012 5:44 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Cultural Exchange Program on Thursday, February 09, 2012

The theme for the Cultural Meeting of Thursday February 09, 2012 was
• Cambodia – The Dances and the Culture
• Valentine’s Day – Intercultural, cross-cultural relationships.

The program was well attended:
IWCB Members: Eka, Maria, Mary S.,Lalitha, Sandra, Lisa, Brigitte F., Brigitte K., Marie -Alice, Nancy, Iko, Joanne, Natalia, Stella, Mary Louise H.

The Dancer/Artist: Mrs. Chanthey P, her daughter Kallianne, her husband Mr. Pere P

Special Guests: Mr. Vernon K., Hattie

Valentine’s Day Lunch:

The Valentine’s Theme lunch included a wonderful array of foods: Vegetable Quiches,  Savory Finger Foods, Spicy Coconut Rice, Cheese Platters, hot & cold Salads, Valentine’s Day Cookies, desserts like Romanian Nalesniki (sweet pancakes) and more.
We reversed the usual order of events to accommodate the program format. We started with the Dance Program followed by a Q & A session. We then broke up for lunch. During the lunch break some of the members joined Mrs. Chantey on the stage to learn the steps of one of the folk dances. We have some very talented members as you can see in the video clips on the Cambodian Dance page. Enjoy!

Valentine’s Day Stories:

During the last 20-30 minutes of the program, two of our members, Marie-Alice and Iko shared their personal stories of how they met their husbands and their experiences being part of an intercultural relationship raising a family.

Marie-Alice spoke of how as a Belgian living in Louisiana, she and her French roommate shared the King’s Day cake and custom with their friends and a neighbor, where the person who is crowned King has to designate a Queen.  As it turned out the neighbor they had invited won the crown and he eventually asked Marie-Alice to be his Queen for life. They then lived in Iran as ex-pats where, as a young mother, she was struck by a comment made by a local woman who wisely told her that the best way to raise children in two cultures was to pick and choose the best things from each. Finally, Marie-Alice shared her favorite quote on love: “Aimer, ce n’est pas se regarder l’un l’autre, c’est regarder ensemble dans la même direction.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
This translates to: “Love is not to look at each other, rather it is to look together in the same direction”.

Iko talked about her relationship as being “inter-intelligent”, intercultural and international. She gave us an account of her life growing up in Japan in the 1940’s. Because it was wartime, even though she and her family lived in a safe zone in a valley surrounded by mountains, they had to use food stamps to get their ration of food. She still has memories of the acute hunger.  Over time, she worked for a TV station, then moved to the US and got married.

The Khmer Dance Program:

Kallianne did the introductions and spoke on behalf of her mother, Chanthey.

Kallianne gave a brief description of Cambodian dance and explained how it intertwined with her mother’s life. Here is the story of Mrs. Chantey as recounted to her daughter:

My name is Chanthey. I was born in Phnom Penh.  As a young girl, I loved to dance. I started performing since when I was 8 years old at an elementary school in Cambodia. My dance teacher was also a school teacher. She learned to dance from the Royal Palace. She had taught me and my friends a Royal Court dance named Chau Duong.

At the end of every school year, I always competed in the dance category with other schools and won the top prize. I performed for Prince Norodom Sihanouk on a few occasions and for tourists that came to visit Cambodia.

On April 17, 1975, the day the Khmer Rouge took over the capital city, Phnom Penh, my husband and I having only been married for a month, left our beloved homeland. Shortly after that, I was living in Mobile, Alabama and performing at the International Festival – an event which represents approximately 50 countries every year.

In Massachusetts, I have been working for the Lowell Public School system for 10 years as a bilingual assistant. Nearly every year, I am in charge of teaching traditional folk dances to my students to perform at the school’s Cambodian New Year celebration which happens mid April.

Following the introduction, Kallianne’s Mom performed three very popular Cambodian social dances. They are Rom WongRom Kbach, and Rom Saravan. These dances are performed at special occasions such as Cambodian New Year, wedding, birthdays, and anniversary parties. No one knows if these casual dances have any meaning. One suggested explanation on why most of the social dances are done in circles is that if there are unmarried couples dancing, there is to be no touching.
Mrs. Chantey ended the performance by demonstrating a few parts of the classical dance, Chauv Duong.


Rom Wong:  This is a simplified dance at a fast pace going around the dance floor in a circle.
Rom Kbach:  This dance uses the same hand movements as in Rom Wong, but with more complex footwork involving criss-crossing the feet and danced at a slower pace. This is also done in a circle.
Rom Saravan:  This dance is not done in a circle. The pairs dance in front of each other with feet going back and forth and the hands are curved and criss-crossed in front of the body at the hip level. The music is fast paced.

FUN FACTS: It is an interesting fact that social dances from around the world have had an impact on Cambodian social culture include the Cuban Cha-cha-cha, the Spanish Bolero, and the Madison – a sort of electric slide type line dance well loved by young, modern adults which came to Cambodia by the French, but was originally from the U.S.-Columbus, Ohio to be exact.


Mrs. Chanthey ended the performance by demonstrating parts of the Royal Court Ballet dance called Chauv Duong.

Background: Royal Court Ballet, as the name suggests, began in the palace. It was originally performed as a form of religious prayer to the deities and ancestors to protect the Khmer kingdom – its people, harvest, and king. You can find evidence of this on the walls of temples in Siem Reap, Cambodia such as Angkor Wat and the Bayon. These temples were built in the 12th century.

Chau Duong: This dance depicts maidens having fun together in a garden. While picking flowers, they build beautiful garlands and wreaths which they adorn themselves. Chau Duong is traditionally performed at important ceremonies, as well as to welcome and entertain guests. The words and gestures of the dance compare the tenderness and beauty of young Khmer women to those of nature and especially to those flowers. You will see in the attached pictorial description the meaning of some of the hand gestures in Khmer classical dance.

This classical dance is famous for its use of hands and feet to express emotion. The dance style evokes highly stylized movement and 4,000 different gestures. These movements are used to tell a story without using any words. It is the abstract style of storytelling that stirs the imagination.

Before every performance, classical dancers pray to the dance master spirits to give them good luck and protection.

FUN FACTS FROM HISTORY: At the 1906 Colonial Exposition in Marseilles, France, King Sisowath’s royal court dancers performed. Auguste Rodin was captivated by the Cambodian dancers and painted a series of water colors of the dancers. Since then, Khmer classical dance has reached a growing public audience where it now remains a celebrated icon of Khmer culture, often being performed during public events, holidays, and for tourists visiting Cambodia.

- submitted by Lalitha

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