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Cambodian classical dance & Cambodian culture

Cambodian classical dance plays a very important part in Cambodian culture. It has been associated with the Royal Court of Cambodia for over a thousand years. Recognized by it's graceful, elegant gestures (kbach) and elaborate costumes, this beautiful dance form has come to embody the historical traditions and values of Khmer throughout the world.
"Traditionally, dancers were trained from childhood in the Royal Palace and were known as the Royal Cambodian Ballet. They went beyond the palace walls only to attend the king. Children who were accepted into the court came from all classes of society, ranging from those of peasants to high ranking officials. In fact, ever since the dance was established in the palace as part of court life, members of the royal family itself would also take part in the dance. World attention focused on them early in this century as one of the few court dance traditions remaining from antiquity."
"Dancers were trained from the age of six for a repertoire which included romances, myths, pure dance pieces and regional epics such as the story of Sita and Rama ( known as the Ramayana or Khmer Reamker ). Dramas concerning the Buddha have also been staged since the twelfth century."
"Temple dancers served as the earthly counterparts of the graceful heavenly apsaras and devatas, entertainers of the gods, whose figures Khmer artists portrayed on temple walls."
Chou Ta-kuan (Zhou Daguan), a chinese traveller who visited seven centuries ago(1296-97), reported the importance of the dance to court and temple celebrations. One festival, he wrote, was called ngai-lan, a word meaning "to dance". Describing a ritual procession in a temple, He notes, "The musical instruments render a clamorous noise that charms the spirit. Then all around is the dancing of men and women."
During the 1970's, when the Khmer Rouge began their reign of terror, all artistic activity in the country ceased. Many of the dance masters, musicians and other artisans were executed in an attempt to purge the country of remnants of the old society. It was feared that the gentle art form of the classical dance, long a symbol of the Cambodian people and their culture, would be lost forever.
The dance was kept alive however, in refugee camps in Thailand by surviving members the the Royal Ballet who taught a new generation of dancers. It is kept alive today far from home by that new generation and the Royal Ballet in Phnom Penh has reformed and dance is taught once again at the Université Royal des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts), Phnom Penh.

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