Apsara Dance: The Enchanting Art of Khmer Culture

Apsara Dance is a graceful and expressive form of Khmer dance that depicts ancient legends and religious tales. The dancers are women (also known as Apsara fairies), who wear tight-fitting traditional costumes and perform intricate movements with their hands and feet. The Apsara dance is renowned for its beauty and its mystical charm.

History of Apsara Dance

Apsara represents an important motif in the stone bas-reliefs of the Angkorian temples in Cambodia (8th–13th centuries AD), however, all female images were once not considered to be Apsara. Initially, the Apsara dance in Cambodia has its origin from Hinduism. But in harmony with the Indian association of dance with apsaras, Khmer dancing female figures are considered Apsara. Therefore, the Apsara dance today is more Khmer than the original dance.

By the 15th century, Apsara dance almost ceased to exist when the Angkor civilization faded. In the 1940s, Queen Sisowath Kossomak Nearirath Serey Vatthana, the wife of King Norodom Suramarit, was invited to visit the Sothearath primary school. In there, she saw the schoolmistress prepare an inspirational Angkor Apsara dance performed by the young students in the paper Apsara costume, with Crown, Flower, and Sampot, all referencing Apsara represented at Angkor Wat. She got an idea to re-create the dance, which led her first granddaughter, Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, a daughter of Norodom Sihanouk, to become the first professional Apsara dancer of the modern era. The Cambodian Apsara dance has been restored and one more time thrived hence.

In 2003, this attractive and unique dance style was recognized as a World’s Intangible culture heritage by UNESCO.

apsara dance cambodia

Features of Apsara Dance

Apsara dance’s features is a skillful and outstanding leader and a group of dancers performing gently and comfortably as the fairies are wandering and playing around the rose garden.

Unlike traditional dances of other countries in the world, Apsara dance requires very slow but very delicate dance movements to fully express the beauty of the dancer and the uniqueness of the art dance this technique.

Due to the difficulty and precision of the gestures, Apsara dancers start their training process at a very young age, around 8-9 years old. At this age, their bone is flexible enough, their fingers can easily fold close to their wrists.

The outfit of the dancer consists of elegant silk clothing, headdress, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and anklets. The headdress of the leader fairy has three points, with two rows of sphere-shaped decorations like in the Apsara pictures at the Angkor Wat. The headdress was worn by subordinate dancers commonly have three points and only one row of decoration. These crowns often include artificial hair with ornate adornments. The five-point crowns are frequently absent in modern Apsara dance performances. The glorious look of these traditional costumes greatly set off the royal and sacred atmosphere.

khmer dancing

Where to enjoin Apsara dance performance?

Nowadays, you can enjoy the Apsara show at many restaurants, hotels, or theaters. In Phom Penh, visitors can visit the Chatomuk Theater near the Royal Palace to enjoy the dance in bustling music with dazzling and charming costumes.

There are many dance festivals held at the temples but most tourists still choose to enjoy Apsara performances with dinner at Khmer restaurants in Siem Reap. For sure, Travel Authentic Asia can bring this royal show to the restaurant as a part of your dining experience or as a private show on request, so that you can enjoy the Apsara dance performance completely.

Source: Chap Chamroeuntola Youtube Channel

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