HAVING seen other children performing traditional Khmer dances on the stage and on television, a 12-year-old boy named Hang Seyla was eager to learn the dance movements as well as become a dancer.
Luckily, he lived in Phnom Penh, near the Toul Kork Market, and he found the Apsara Arts Association, where he has spent the past 10 years learning traditional dances and teaching them to a new generation.
“When I started learning (the dances), it was so difficult because I couldn’t stand the pain. My teacher cracked my arms and legs,” Hang Seyla recalls.
While rehearsing the Haknuman (Monkey) Dance, for example, he needed to be comical. This was his first experience in learning the traditional dance. Although it was hard, he managed to succeed in his dream and became a dance teacher’s assistant in 2008.
Hang Seyla teaches the Haknuman and other traditional Khmer dances, and all his students are male.
“At moment, I am teaching how to perform the Haknuman dance in a story called Sovann Marchanub,” he said with an endearing smile.
Hang Seyla explained that this dance required a lot of co-ordination because it could easily cause injury when the two dancers were jumping around.
Hang Seyla is an orphan, as his parents died in 2009 and 2010. He has three sisters and one brother. He is the middle child of the five, and he supports his younger sister and brother.
Hang Seyla has performed in almost every Cambodian province, sharing traditional Khmer dances such as Sovann Marchanub and Peacock Pai Lin. On top of all that, he was selected to perform in Paris in 2004. Between August and October of last year, Hang Seyla went to Singapore with other performers and gained his Artist Certificate of Performance from Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.
As well as his performances, he participated in an exchange study tour to a cultural village in Malaysia.
“There is more to succeeding than knowing the way to go,” Hang Seyla said. “Achieving something involves being tolerant and working hard.”
All these successes are the result of not only his talent but also the hard work he has put in.
Hang Seyla, like most of us, has ambitions. He wants to run his own dancing school, like the Apsara Arts Association, so a new generation, especially the poor, can have more chance to understand, and learn, traditional Khmer dance.