Apsara dance – the national pride of Cambodia | Cruise Mekong River

Apsara dance – the national pride of Cambodia

Apsara dance

Apsara is the title of a Khmer classical dance created by the Royal Ballet of Cambodia in the mid-20th century under the patronage of Queen Sisowath Kossamak. The Apsara is played by a woman, sewn into tight-fitting traditional dress, whose graceful, sinuous gestures are codified to narrate classical myths or religious stories. Cambodia Discovery

Apsara dance

Apsara dance

A dark shadow loomed over Cambodia from 1975-79. The Khmer Rouge had taken over the country and their leaders sought to destroy all forms of culture and art. Dancing was prohibited, religion was banned and every school was closed, yet the spirit of preserving their own identity was preserved. Many performers were killed, but a small band of dancers managed to survive and is now making a comeback.

In recent years, however, the dance has been making a comeback in Cambodia and is now a common feature of public ceremonies and in hotel lobbies across Cambodia’s most tourist-friendly cities. It has been a tradition since the earliest days of tourism in the 19th century to treat visitors to Siem Reap with a ‘Apsara dance performance’ – a taste of classical Khmer culture. These days no visit to Cambodia is complete without attending at least one traditional performance. Cambodia travel packages

Yet few people have had the opportunity to watch these incredible dancers perform in what was once their home: the Angkor temples. In these temples – where performances are held for private and exclusive dinners or for important meetings – their ancestral movements match perfectly with the mystical atmosphere that envelops the Cambodian nights.

Traditional Khmer dance

Traditional Khmer dance

Most shows include the four genre of traditional Khmer dance: Apsara Dance, Masked Dance, Shadow Theatre, and Folk Dance. These are abbreviated dances for tourists, and unfortunately there is usually little or no explanation as to the origin and meaning of the dances. But they are still interesting and worthwhile to see.

Khmer dancing can be classical – intense, slow-moving, graceful movements that are directly inspired by the Apsaras at Angkor – or theatrical, where stories are told from the Ramayana or moral tales governing daily life.

The performers of the dance are supposed to have a very flexible body structure, especially fingers

The performers of the dance are supposed to have a very flexible body structure, especially fingers

Wearing glittering silk tunics, sequinned tops (into which they are sewn before each performance to achieve the requisite tight fit) and elaborate golden headdresses, performers execute their movements with deftness and deliberation, knees bent in plié, heels touching the floor first at each step, coy smiles on their faces. The performers of the dance are supposed to have a very flexible body structure, especially fingers. Some performers can touch their wrists by bending their fingers backwards. The flowing and graceful steps are what define Apsara Dance.

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