Five hours a day and seven days a week for the past year, the nine young members of street-dance group Polarixcrew have worked tirelessly to create original choreography and make a name for themselves as dancers.
This weekend will see their greatest test yet, as six members of the team head to Bangkok, where they will be the first Cambodian street-dance team to compete internationally.
The Asia Hip Hop Jam 2016, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, is scheduled to run from September 9 to September 11 at Bangkok’s Seacon Square.
“We are so excited to join this international competition,” says 22-year-old team leader Soun Cheakong while taking a break from rehearsal earlier this week.
Featuring teams from South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand – and now Cambodia – the competition’s final day will be televised in Thailand. Up for grabs: 100,000 baht ($2,890) for the winning team, and 70,000 baht ($2,020) and 50,000 baht ($1,440) for the second- and third-place teams.
The group of 17- to 24-year-olds was trained at the Cambodia Stars Academy (CSA) dance school in Siem Reap, under the tutelage of a Japanese dance instructor, says CSA assistant director Sour Rathakanha.
“They come from different backgrounds, but they share a common interest in promoting dance,” she says.
Indeed, for many, this is their first experience abroad; three members found themselves unable to travel as they lack passports.
Don’t be fooled by the slick moves, though: some in Polarixcrew have had anything but a smooth journey in pursuing this dream.
Twenty-year-old So Sovanorith, who learned to dance at CSA only in the past year – and for which he quit his job working at a hotel – has to balance the rigorous training schedule with his studies as a third-year university student.
“It is so hard to manage my time,” he says. “Some days I am so tired and have no motivation to study at all.”
Cheakong, a Siem Reap native, used to work as a tour guide for Chinese tourists. Although he had a steady income, he knew his passion was dance. To the dismay of his family, he quit guiding and joined CSA against their advice.
“My parents and my grandfather and grandmother, my relatives – all of them are not happy with what I am happy with,” he says. “They always tell me dancing is useless and I will only earn less money than before.”
To add to the difficulties, when Cheakong was a child, he suffered a bad fall; even today he suffers health complications. In that alone, his parents’ concerns are reasonable enough.
“I passed out and was sent to the hospital three or four times [already] during my training, as I have to run for 45 minutes and dance for five hours each day,” he says. “That is [another] reason why my parents are not happy with what I am doing right now; they worry about my health.”
And while he heeds their advice to a degree, quitting dance is not an option. “If they want me to stop dancing, I cannot obey them. In my life, I wish just to do what I really love,” he says.
The fallout from his decision to follow his passion runs deep: his parents, he says, have never come to watch him perform.
“And when I told them that I’m going to Thailand for my first international performance, they still didn’t care. They just told me: ‘This is the last time that we allow you to dance’,” he says.
If they were ever to turn up to one of his shows, he says, “it would be the best day ever in my life”.As for 24-year-old Pal Pheap, he left his home in Kampong Speu after finishing high school and moved to Siem Reap.
“I stayed here on my own. I knew no one; I had no job,” he says.
Eventually he found work at a four-star resort and spa but, like Sovanorith, he took the gamble of quitting that job last year to focus on his passion for dance. He has yet to tell his parents that he joined CSA.
“What I care about is to dance and to make myself famous. So, there is nothing that can stop me,” he says. “I am sure [my parents] wouldn’t like what I’m doing right now, but I haven’t told them that I quit my job and am focused only on dancing.”
So is he concerned that his parents might find out about his secret dance career should they see this article? No, he replies.
“If they happen to find out about this, it will be OK, because I am not a kid anymore . . . and I will tell them how I excited I am when I and my team perform on the international stage and compete with 10 countries from around Asia,” he says. “They should be proud of me.”