-Aide et Action, Cambodia-
From behind the 11th century Nokor Bachey temple, two kilometres west of Kampong Cham town, traditional Khmer music can be clearly heard coming through the stone ruin walls. At close glance, it reveals three young traditional musicians playing traditional Khmer music instruments, while more than a dozen young dancers are practicing their skills, as their teacher is carefully watching their every move. “Stand straight and bend your knees a little bit,” 20-year-old dance teacher San Chaily instructs. “Are you ready?” she asks. “Ok! One, two, three!”
Ms. Chaily says 120 children aged between 4 and 19 come to the dance school run by the Buddhism and Society Development Association, partner of AEA Cambodia with CCOSC, a local organization that works to empower and support marginalized women and children in Cambodia. She says around 35 children from nearby villages come to learn dancing skills for an hour each day before another group comes after they return from their studies at public school. “In the beginning, they plainly practice dancing without music,” Ms. Chaily added that the children will sing along with her as they dance.
Prak Thavy, a 9-year-old third grade student from a nearby school, says she has been learning traditional Khmer dances for about one month.
Khim Sophea, 12, says he is learning the flag dance after he returns from school where he is attending grade 6. He says the students just hold tree branches and raise them into the air when they practice dancing. “But, we will use real flags when we perform for an audience,” he says, adding that he hopes he will dance for foreign visitors who come to his school periodically.
However, Sophea says he wants to perform at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh for the king when he becomes skillful with all types of dances. “I love our king, because he is very kind and gentle,” he says.
Yet, Thavy says she wants to dance in Thailand which has similar dances as the traditional dances in Cambodia. “I want to compete with the Thai dancers and see who will dance better,” she says.
Meanwhile, 11-year-old Yan Sokhy, who is attending a dance class with Thavy and Sophea, says she wants to travel to Europe and perform for the people there. “I want to dance in France, because the French have a lot of money,” she says, making her friends laugh.
Ms. Chaily, who has been a dancer for more than ten years, says the dreams of the three young dance students are still a long way from coming true. She says she teaches eight different traditional Khmer dances with each dance taking about two weeks to learn. However, she says it takes years for the students to perfect their dancing skills. “Some children just come to play,” she says. “But, some of them want to become professional.”