Founded in 1998 by Vong Metrey and her husband, the Apsara Art Association has aimed to protect traditional Khmer dance while also providing a livelihood for young underprivileged women.
“Children who come to study at the Apsara Art Association are mostly girls. They are from families who love traditional Khmer art and culture but the majority of them are poor and can’t afford to pay for education,” said Metrey.
“[At Apsara Art Association] we provide the children with free education, and we also provide them with food, clothes, accommodation and transportation.”
Amid her own enthusiasm for the traditional arts Metry expressed worry about the decreasing number of children joining the school. For 2015 only 35 students signed up standing against the 100 students who joined the previous year.
To make more girls join Metry tries to set new incentives as she explained: ”We reduce training hours to leave more time for regular school and sometimes provide tuk-tuks for safe and comfortable transportation home but it doesn’t work.”
Unfortunately, Metry’s efforts remained fruitless so far.
Besides filling the role of the general manager and finding funds for the foundation Metrey, a lady of 60 years, also teaches traditional and popular dance to the girls.
Regardless her age and health her strongest desire is to pass on her unmatched experience and knowledge in Khmer dance. She said, “We want to see Khmer dance shine on the world stage now and in the future”.
As reason for the general decrease in interest students and parents told her that “it [took] too long to learn, and [earned] too little for each performance, so their hope in traditional dance [was] dampened.”
Ranging from three to nine years for the young girls to become a professional Khmer traditional dancer with little pay awaiting them upon graduation, according to Metry, the public sector needs to fund and protect the art form and bring it to the cultural heights of the Angkorian era.
For the time being however Apsara Art Association’s income relies on the donations of charitable organizations and local and foreign philanthropists. Another source are performances in and outside Phnom Penh, but that demands a full-time schedule and little pay that many girls find too tough: training in the mornings and shows in the evening from Monday to Saturday, all year long.