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Teaching dance in the capital a labour of love and passion

Teaching dance in the capital a labour of love and passion

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Whether for recreation or romance, dance classes in Phnom Penh reflect a growing interest in international styles as well as traditional Khmer culture

Photo by: Sovann Philong

Students participate in a street jazz class at The Place gym in Phnom Penh.

Residents looking for a more sophisticated way of stepping out on the town, or those simply looking for a healthy and creative hobby, will find a variety of dance classes available that accommodate a growing range of styles and tastes.

Therese and Nomya Ouk run ballroom dance classes in a beautifully renovated apartment on busy Kampuchea Krom Boulevard. The retired couple, who spend half their time in France and the other half in Phnom Penh, have been dancing for 20 years and admit to being well known among ballroom enthusiasts in Paris.

"Our objective in giving classes here is to enjoy ourselves and to share our passion for ballroom dancing," said Nomya. "It is mostly expats or Cambodians who have lived abroad who come to our classes, as most locals have unfortunately never heard of ballroom dancing."

Classes taught include tango, paso doble, rock 'n' roll, waltz, cha cha cha and bolero-rumba, and are offered on a course-by-course basis, with five classes over five weeks costing US$35.

Participants are expected to come in pairs, but for singles, Nomya and Therese also teach Madison country dance, a form of line dancing.

"We don't do this because we need the money," Nomya explained. "We use all proceeds to fund an educational project for children in Cambodia. This year, we're raising money to buy a library bus for remote areas."

For dancing with a more local flavour, Sovanna Phum Arts Association offers private classes in traditional Khmer dancing.

'Cambodian experience'

Tourists in search of a "Cambodian experience" make up the bulk of those who contact the association for classes, manager Ouch Sina said, though anyone interested in other classes are welcome, too.

OUR OBJECTIVE IS TO ENJOY OURSELVES AND TO SHARE OUR PASSION FOR BALLROOM DANCING.

"We also offer classes in shadow puppet-making and traditional music and drumming," he added.
For those looking for more contemporary beats, Etha Margaretha teaches hip-hop dance at The Place on Fridays at 7pm. She describes the class as popular among members of the gym, as hip-hop is relatively easy to learn.

"Some people like it so much they have asked me to teach private classes, too," she said.

Originally from Indonesia, Margaretha bemoans the lack of dancing in Phnom Penh. "There are no dance groups in Phnom Penh," she said, adding that she is currently looking for members to start a hip-hop group herself.

The Place is the place

The Place also offers capoeira classes on Wednesdays at 7:45pm, and street jazz classes at 7pm on Thursdays.

Emilia Roig, who teaches the street jazz class, is happy to be able to share her long-term passion for dance in Cambodia, too.

"The class combines various styles, including jazz, Afro, and Latino, with a strong hip-hop influence. It is very close to what is called New Style hip-hop," she said.

Classes at The Place are free to members of the gym, however, non-members are charged the gym's daily $15 fee to take part.

Dancing for the masses

Another option is to head for the Olympic Stadium between 5pm and 6pm. As the sun sets, dance and aerobics classes of various sorts kick off on the top of the stadium. Here, you can try classical Khmer dancing, Latin-style grooving and more conventional pop-style dance. Don't expect any instruction, but for a mere 500 riels, it's a fun bargain.

Several parks around town also turn into open-air dance studios in the early evening, though it may take some guts to join this very public activity.

In the recent past, salsa classes have been offered at various venues around town. These are currently on hold but may resume in the near future.

Rumours about a ballet teacher in town have also been circulating, but no details of classes could be found.

A spokesman for the Royal University of Fine Arts confirmed that outsiders can take part in classes organised for students at the university, but was unable to give further details.

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