To have an insight of the world of Apsara dancing, we had the chance to meet and interview two passionate and experienced Apsara dancers and teachers in Cambodia:
- Mrs Kim Boran 54 years old living in Siem Reap
- Miss Sen Pich 27 years old, she opened an Apsara dancing school in Phnom Penh
1. Can you introduce yourself and tell us how and when you decided to become an Apsara dancer?
KB: My name is Kim Boran, I was born in 1950 and grew up in Phnom Penh city. In 1958 , I started learning dancing at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. At that time, I could join dancing class only once a week. Later on, at the age of 12 years old, I begged my mother to leave public school for dancing school only. My first performance as an Apsara dancer was when I was 23 years old, randomly when one member of the Royal Apsara dancers team was absent! They selected me instead. At the end, I was noticed by became the King Norom Sihanouk who said that I was the most attractive. I then became famous and decided to open a dancing school in Siem Reap after the Pol Pot regime in 1990. From 1993, my students have been performing Apsara dance in restaurants and hotels but also in France, Japan, America and Australia.
SP: My name is Sen Pich, I'm a 27 year-old Cambodian lady. I began Apsara dancing 20 years ago in Site 2, the refugee camp at the Thai border. Some dancers from the Royal Ballet were refugees too and they proposed lessons to the young people. I tried and I loved it!
2. How many years must one practice before becoming a professional Apasara dancer?
KB: It really takes time to learn to be a dancer. It depends on your talent also. Personnally, I had spent 11 years learning before being part of the Apsara Dancers team in 1973. You need to know 4500 basic gestures to be a good dancer.
SP: You can "understand" the dance in 1 month and start mastering some gestures after practicing for 3 months 4 times a week. But to have the perfect gesture… it takes a lot of time.
3. The Apsara dance seems to be composed of numerous gestures rather than “steps”. Do these gestures have a special meaning?
KB: The Apsara gesture is called "celestial gesture" in the Apsara dance. It is significant of the beauty of the Khmer lady and the symbol of the Khmer Nation since Angkor period.
SP: The hand gestures in Khmer classical dance are called "kbach" (meaning). The hand gestures form a sort of alphabet and represent various things from nature such as fruit, flowers and leaves. They are used in different combinations and transitions in accordance with movements of the legs and feet, to convey different thoughts and concepts. The way in which they are presented, the position of the arm and the position of the hand relative to the arm can also affect their meaning. In addition to that, there are also numerous Apsara dances with different interpretations: Robam tep apsara, Robam chun por, folk dance… .
4. Why do you like working with travel agencies and performing in front of tourists?
KB: I really love working with travel agents and as well as teaching children how to dance. By doing so, I wish that the Khmer art and culture will be alive forever.
SP: I love to be an ambassador of my culture and my country. I'm so happy to help the foreigners to understand better Cambodia! Also discussion with foreigners are very interesting because I learn about other cultures!
5. What is your most remarkable memory during one of your performances?
KB: My first performance with the Royal Apsara Dance troop of course, in front of the princess Norodom Bopha Devi and the King Norodom Sihanouk. I was the smallest dancer but the most appreciated by the King.
SP: Years ago I had the opportunity to dance in front of the King Norodom Sihanouk and the Princess Norodom Buppha Devi at Wat Phnom. It was particularly impressive as the King represents the culture and the princess is the best Apsara Dancer ever!
6. How is considered the job of “Apsara dancer” in the current Cambodian society? Are the young generations still interested in this art?
KB: But the image of the dancer is not so good in the local society. Some of the local people prohibit to their children to learn dancing. They think it is not good for their girls who go out of the home at night to train or perform. For the young generations, I think that only the ones in the countryside still love the Apsara dance and are interested by this art.
SP: I receive a lot of nice messages. In spite of our sad history from the 80's, people are still proud to be Khmer but sometimes they are a little lost about what it means to be Khmer. The Apsara dance is 100% Khmer like the Angkor Temple so people appreciate.