Each country usually has some kind of traditional dance for which they are (in)famous. There is Morris Dancing in the UK (people whacking sticks together), the Schuhplattler in Germany (people whacking their hands and legs together) or the Tango in Argentina (people whacking their…..anyway).

Cambodia‚Äôs traditional dance is the Apsara dance. The dance is probably better described as ‘dance-drama’, in that the dances are not merely dance, but are also meant to convey a story or message.


We have had the pleasure of witnessing this dance during a wedding ceremony and a public event on Human Rights Day, but you can also view performances in restaurants or hotels in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. This type of dance has been part of Khmer culture for well over a millennium. The graceful movements of the Apsara dancers, adorned with gold headdresses and silken tunics and skirts, are even carved on the walls of the many ancient temples at Angkor.

Apsara is a highly stylized art form, in which extremely flexible dancers use a complex alphabet of hand and body positions to convey a story, similar to mime or ballet. Dancers dance with a slight smile, but are never supposed to open their mouths.
The dance got its name from Apsarais, a female spirit of the clouds and waters in Hindu and Buddhist mythology. Apsaras are beautiful, supernatural female beings. They dance to the music, usually in the palaces of the gods, entertain and sometimes seduce gods and men. The English translations of the word Apsarais is “nymph”.
Some male Apsara dancers

If you are up for a challenge tourists can have a go at learning some Apsara at special dance classes. I think I will give it a miss though: gracefulness, tight costumes and flexibility are not necessarily the skills of a heavy footed, stiff German, who can’t even manage to sit cross-legged. If you fancy learning how to dance Apsara though you can learn it at the Apsara Dance Troupe.


About Tammyonthemove

Tammy & Chris are a couple hailing from Germany and England, meaning between them they are efficient and polite, but unable to talk about football. Find out why they stopped pushing pens around the British civil service to travel the world on their blog.

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