Dance and Theater

There is a strong tradition of dance in Cambodia, which has its origins in the sacred dances of the apsaras, the mythological seductresses of ancient Cambodia. Dance also became a religious tradition, designed to bring the king and his people divine blessings.

During the Angkor period classical ballet dancers were central to the royal court. The dances are very symbolic, and are subject to a precise order, a strict form, and a prescribed language of movements and gestures. Folk dancing in Cambodia is less structured, with dancers responding to the rhythm of drums. The dancers act out tales from Cambodian folk stories; folk dancing can often be seen at local festivals.

Folk plays and shadow plays (nang sbaek thom) are also a popular form of entertainment in the countryside. They are based on stories from the Ramayana, embroidered with local legends and the characters are cut out of leather and often painted.

The traditional orchestra consists of three xylophones; khom thom (a horseshoe-shaped arrangement with 16 flat gongs); violins; wind instruments including flutes, flageolets and a Khmer version of bagpipes; as well as drums of different shapes and sizes. There are three types of drum: the hand drum, the cha ayam drum and the yike drum. The drummer has the most important role in folk music as he sets the rhythm. There is no system of written notation so the tunes are transmitted orally from generation to generation.