As I said in my last post (Aspara Dance), So Channou, a former dancer, has opened a small school to teach Khmer classical dance to young girls facing life challenges. Most of these young girls need to provide for their families or for themselves. So Channou gives them the opportunity to learn dance and music so that they can perform and earn some much-needed money. The program is structured so that the students can continue their regular schooling as they attend the dance and music classes in the morning, go to regular school in the afternoon, and perform in the evening.
I spent time with two of So Channou’s lovely students, Pan Channoand, age 15, and Ki Samnang, age 17. We visited Pan’s home where she now lives with her sister (Ki’s home was too far away for us to visit.) At Pan’s home, I learned about the two girls’ family situations as they both tell us about their life experience and their hardship. The need for help and support is evident. All of us also went to the Angkor Wat temple to look at the carved Apsaras that inspired the dance they perform every night. Although they are locals, they do not have much opportunity to see these treasures that tourists come halfway around the world to see.
Later in the day, I went on to watch Pan and Ki transform themselves into the elegant Apsaras that will delight a small audience of visitors to Siem Reap. Pan and Ki perform every evening with a few other dancers and a small group of musicians at the Khmer BBQ restaurant. So Channou (and her delightful daughter) are there every evening to help them get ready and supervise the performance. The quality of the show was way beyond what I expected given the venue, showcasing the grace and elegance of my two new friends and their fellow performers.
Being able to be trained and performed has provided these young girls with a way to continue their regular schooling while contributing to the family’s needs. This is not to say that this is a way out of poverty. Dancers earn very little, as little as $50/month for performing every night of the week, not much even for Cambodian standards. Yet, I applaud So Channou for helping young girls to survive using Cambodia classical dance and for helping keep Cambodia classical dance alive.
Enjoy, much more to come on beautiful Cambodia.