“I am very happy when the audience claps for us. This is what gives us the motivation to continue.”
Srey Nuth, 19, is a student of traditional Apsara dance at Phare Ponleu Selpak. When she first started taking classes at age 13, she had never seen a live dance performance before. “I had only ever seen traditional dancing on TV. I really loved to watch it, so I decided to become involved.”
At the time, Srey Nuth was studying at the public school at Phare Ponleu Selpak. Like all 1,200 students at the public school, which is run by the government, Srey Nuth could access arts classes for free during her spare periods.
“The first thing you learn when you start dance classes are the basic stretches,” Srey Nuth explains. “You have to learn how to bend your fingers and stretch your legs. At the beginning it hurts to put your fingers in the right position. But when you get used to it, it doesn’t hurt anymore.”
Recently, dance students have begun to perform regularly at the Phare Big Top, before each circus show. They will soon also start regular shows at a local Battambang restaurant, Pomme d’Amour. These performances are a great chance for the dancers to gain professional experience and earn some income.
Srey Nuth’s favorite dance is called “Moon of Love”. It’s a precise, elegant piece, performed with candles and flowers. “It’s very slow and careful. We have to practice a lot to make sure all the dancers move together. When we are practicing, if someone is wrong, we have to start again until we get it right.”
It is this kind of discipline that Srey Nuth will need to reach her ambitions for the future: she would like to continue her training and eventually become a professional dancer and teacher. She is aware of the challenges of being a traditional dancing in a rapidly modernizing country. “Nowadays, most people prefer modern dancing,” she says. “But modern dancing is much easier than traditional. I want to take care of traditional culture and keep it alive. I want to share traditional Cambodian dancing with the world.”
For such ambitious goals, it helps that Srey Nuth has the support of her family. “My family often comes to watch me dancing. When they see me it makes them cry because they are so happy.”