ABOUT 10 dancers are clustered around the teacher at Amrita Performing Arts Centre, clad in flat shoes and swirly skirts.
They are learning the steps to a dance that grew out of American jazz music in the 1930s – the Lindy Hop.
Part of a group of dances under the loose umbrella of swing, the Lindy Hop requires a partner for maximum effect. Later in the evening, after the dance classes finish, learners can further practise their steps to a live band at Equinox bar and restaurant.
This class is under the leadership of teacher Robyn Zellar, who also goes by the name Mama Swing.
Having learned swing dancing and the Lindy Hop while she was in Beijing in 2005, and began to teach the steps to young teenagers. Arriving in Cambodia in mid 2009, she saw a gap in the market and began teaching others the infectious dance style.
“I love dancing, but at first it was very difficult to find someone else who was good at swing dancing in Cambodia. So I thought that if I wanted to find good dancers, I needed to open a dance club first.”
Teaching on Thursdays at Amrita, Zellar says that about most of her students are female, but she organised a few parties around town to increase the number of male dancers, who seemed a little shy.
“If we compare the traditional dance of Cambodia with swing, Cambodian dance is more serious and gentle because dancers do not need to touch their partner’s hands and legs,” she explained.
“I like swing because I love to dance alone, but the similarity is that dancing can strengthen solidarity, friendship and socialisation,” said Zellar.
Pupil Chhorn Linda, 27, has been practising swing dancing every week, saying she finds the exercise reduces stress and makes her happier.
“Lindy Hop swing and Khmer culture is different because many Khmer people are still very shy. But my family doesn’t mind me learning this dance, for exercise and fun.”
On alternate Sundays, Phnom Penh Swings heads out to Snowy’s Bar across the river for an afternoon of dancing.
The first lesson is free to enable people to find out whether they would enjoy the dancing.
Classes cost $5 for foreigners and $2.50 for Cambodians.
Amrita Performing Arts Centre dance studio is at 22 Street 240, next to the southern end of the Royal Palace. For forther information, visit www.pppswings.com.