A mix of Cambodian and expat women concentrate on the tips of their fingers, taking in the day’s lesson at a new Apsara dance class now being held in the centre of Phnom Penh.
Though it has only been open for one month, the class already has a handful devoted students, and the woman behind the effort is hopeful that more people, particularly foreigners, will continue to take interest in learning the traditional Cambodian art form.
“I started this class because I love traditional Khmer dance like Apsara and wanted to show it off for the foreigners,” says Pich Sen, the young instructor.
“I am very excited and pleased that I can have a multinational Apsara dance class, with both Khmer and foreign women attending.”
Pich Sen, 27, who teaches the class in both Khmer and English so as to make it accessible to expats, had been working as a part-time English teacher before taking a turn teaching Apsara – a classical art form she learned when she was 13 years old.
“Even though I’m not a professional instructor, I want to share with the next generation what I have learned,” says Pich Sen.
Mary Metaye, a French expat who has just joined the class, is an oustanding student despite never trying Cambodian dance until now.
“I used to train in modern dance. It is a bit different from Apsara dance, which seems complex but slow,” said Metaye, who likened the soft pace of the dance to a form of meditation.
“I decided to join this class to get rid of some stress too.”
“The hard part for me is how to bend my fingers and how to keep a straight posture during the dance. But I like it and I hope in a few weeks it'll get easier for me,” says Metaye.
“Sometimes, I study Apsara dance by watching Youtube videos to recognize the moves.”
Another French expat student, Caroline Aymar, says that aside from the exercise and health benefits, the dance classes also bring her closer to the culture of her host country.
“While living in Cambodia I think that I need to know some part of Khmer culture,” she says.
Pich Sen's Apsara dance classes are held at So Shoot Me Studio at #126 Street 136, Sangkat Phsar Kandal I, Phnom Penh, opposite ELT International School. Classes are Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 6:30 to 7:30pm, and are open to women up to 30 years old. Cost is US$30 per month. Interested individuals can register by writing to email@example.com.