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Apsara dance in Khmer culture

When it comes to Cambodia, Angkor Wat is undoubtedly No. 1 on the must-see list. What’s about the second one on the list? In our opinion, Apsara dance should be the next one you see after Angkor Wat. Because it is the most profound and aesthetic art form in Cambodian culture and also recognized by UNESCO as an intangible heritage.

The amazing journey of this art form overcoming the Khmer Rouge regime is unbelievable. During that infamous period of Cambodian history, all art forms and cultural traditions were supposed to be destroyed for the “purification” of the nation. Miraculously, the art survived after the collapse of the regime and continued to thrive until today.

What does Apsara means

In Khmer belief, Apsara is the goddess of love and dance. You’ll see this image very often being carved on the walls of Khmer constructions such as Angkor Wat. During the Angkorian era, Apsara dance used to be performed at palace for special royal events. Evidence of this elegant art form can be easily found in the walls of ancient temples across this country.

The outfit

The outfit, which is comprised of elegant silk clothing, stunning jeweled headdresses and precious necklaces, earrings, bracelets and anklets. The glorious look of the traditional costumes immensely sparks the royal ambience and the sacred atmosphere.

The movements

The gesture, the curve of the arm and the dancer’s body recreate the epic stories carved on the ancient temples’ walls. The main traits of the dance are the hand gestures, and more than 1,500 exist. Each movement of the fingers has its own distinct meaning, from worshiping the spirits of nature by depicting a flower in bloom to referencing one of the hundreds of Buddhist and Hindu legends. The hand movements is the most noticeable but their facial expressions are very attractive as well. Without a single word, the stories are being told through those fantastic movements and they come directly to the audience’s hearts.

The stories

Some people might call Apsara the Cambodia Ballet but it’s more than just a dance, it carries the history, culture and wishes of a nation. Through dance, Cambodian want to transfer their wishes to Gods. That could be the hope for a peaceful and prosperity life. Apsara is also a history book recording both the tragic and joyful pages of Cambodia. Apart from that, Apsara also carries the daily story of four life stages: of birth, disease, old age, death which all human beings have to go through in Eastern belief. In other words, this dance represent the spirit of Cambodian people passing down from generations to generations.  

The dancers

Apsara dancers start their trainings at the early age, around 8-9 years old. Due to the difficulty and precision of each gesture, the bone has to be as flexible as possible. Their fingers can fold easily to near their wrists. If you have time, get to know the stories of the dancers. You might learn one or two things about this interesting art form.  

Where to enjoy it

Nowadays, everyone can enjoy this royal show at many restaurants as a part of your dining experience or as a private show on request. Here are some of our suggestions:

Apsara Dance and Khmer Cuisine

  • Crystal Angkor Restaurant

Add: Roud 30, Krong Siem Reap, +855 12 786 786

  • Angkor Village Resort Apsara Theatre

Add: Street 60, Siem Reap, +855 (0)63 963 561

Apsara Dance only

  • Cambodian Living Arts

Add: The National Museum, Street 13, Phnom Penh, +855 (0) 17 998 570

Other than that, the private show can be provided on request either in hotels or some temples. Please check with our experts to get more information on this.

If you have a chance to enjoy this fantastic show, you’ll get why it plays an important role in the lifestyle of Cambodian people.


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