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The traditional dance of Cambodia
An Interview
Questions by Emily Pham, answers by Ingo Stoevesandt

Q:   What is so special about traditional Khmer dance?

A:   The name "Khmer" itself might be reflected to the  mythological "parents" of the Cambodian people, which are "Khamu" and "Meru"  (=KH+MER), both unknown to the Indian pantheon but given marriage to each other  by Hindu god Shiva. "Meru" is always depicted as an "Apsara", a heavenly creature of the dance. Thus the first Cambodian woman, the mother of all Khmer  people, was a dancer! Comparing the Apsaras with Indian sculptures (as e.g. of the dancing Shiva), we find many similarities in style and movement (see below, question 5).
So, is it just the same?
This question involves the old problem of comparison in  musical and ethnological science. I always prefer to speak of "correspondancies" than of "influencies", because this term should be able to show the aspects of an influence which is transformed into something indigenous in a much better way.  The main correspondancies in Khmer tradition come from India and Indonesia. But if someone really tries the hard work to compare these  cultures with the Khmer inventions of music, dance, theatre, literature,  clothing and religion one will soon figure out that the Khmer have transformed all of these influencies into something rather original which is not to be  found anywhere else in SE-Asia.    
The style of clothes and dance, the content of the religious tales and stories might be corresponding to aspects of Indian  dance and religion, but, to give an example, the "Reamker" opus is a uniquely  Khmer invention. The musical instruments and playing styles might correspond with others found in SE-Asia, mainly the Gamelan ensembles of Indonesia show a strong influence in the Khmer Pin Pea" orchestra, but again the Khmer version as a  conglomerate of all these aspects stands for an indigenous patch work which is  found nowhere else.
The temples of Angkor Wat with the sculptures of "mother Meru" shown as a heavenly dance creature called  Apsara are not only the symbols of Cambodian pride, they are the main keys to reflect how the Khmer  understand themselves. The dance of the Apsara is not only the metaphoric  picture for the cultural identity of a whole nation, it is the link back to a history of more than a thousand years ago, which was nearly lost in the last decades and has to be  preserved for the future.
The Khmer traditional dance, and thus the Khmer culture, are outstanding, worldwide.

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