Khmer Apsara Dance: A Complete Guide Cambodia's Traditional Dance

May 11, 2022 - 2161 views

Coming to Cambodia without being able to enjoy the Apsara Dance once will be a big shortcoming of any visitor to this country. It is because Apsara is a traditional art dance in the royal court of Cambodia. This dance was also recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of the World.

Well-known as the classical style Khmer performance, the Apsara Dance named for the 'heavenly dance' is the symbol of the Cambodian arts dating back to the Angkorian Era. Let's figure out how this Royal ballet put a significant influence on the ancient and modern culture of Cambodia. 

What is Apsara Dancing?

According to folklore, Apsara is used to call fairies of clouds and water. When they play, sing, and dance, plants and animals multiply and flourish. Therefore, Cambodians respect Apsara as the Goddess of Prosperity. These girls with sleek and beautiful figures are also included in Cambodian poetry and music works. Apsaras often dance and sing for the male gods at the party to celebrate victory over the devil.

Apsara Dance

Cambodian Apsara Dancers

From their mysterious movements, the Cambodian people have created the Apsara dance. It was once performed in the palace during holidays to praise the merits of the gods and royal family. Over the centuries, the type of dance has gradually become more popular. Now, when traveling to Cambodia, you can come across a young smooth dance, famous for its elegance and nobility. The Apsara girls are graceful women dancing at festivals and weddings.

Apsara is classical, plump, and full of vitality. Magnificently dressed in gold, silver, and pearls, they perform soft and gentle movements to attract audiences. Through the dance, the Cambodians want to express their desire for peace and prosperity, praising nature's beauty and their king.

Apsara Dance History

Apsara dance was introduced into the country and became a thriving art around the 1st century AD. During the Angkor, this dance was performed only for kings on important holidays or occasions in honor of Hindu gods. Under King Jayavarman VII, the recorded number of Apsara dancers reached 3,000, larger than the capital's population at that time.

Apsara Dance History

Apsara Dance in Cambodian arts

Initially, the Apsara dance in Cambodia originated from Hinduism, but by the 13th century, this dance was slightly different. It is because of the inspiration of intricate sculptures and carvings at temples of the ancient Khmer. Therefore, today Apsara Cambodia is more Khmer than the original one. By the 15th century, Apsara almost ceased to exist or existed very faintly when the Angkor civilization died out. Till the end of the 40s of the 20th century, thanks to Queen Sisowath Kossamak, Apsara dance history was thriving again.

Today, Khmer Apsara performed on modern stages is simplified. The dance movements are more relaxed and liberal than the traditional ones. However, the characteristics of moves are still retained.

The Dancers and Movements

An Apsara dance performance includes the main character and a group of dancers acting like fairies walking in the rose garden. Different from the traditional dances of other countries in the world, Apsara requires slow but delicate movements to fully exude the beauty of the dancer and the uniqueness of the artistic dance.

In Apsara dance, each dance movement carries a meaning or a symbol of a certain phenomenon or character. For example, a curved finger pointing upwards means "today". If the arm is placed at chest level, it represents "happiness”. When the left hand is facing back and the right hand is clasped in front of the chest with 3 fingers pointing up, the index finger touching the thumb, it is a symbol depicting the image of the snake Naga, the mount of Vishnu god. An upward hand represents "death", while the downward hand is a symbol of "life". If the two hands move up and down in a fast rhythm, it refers to the 4 stages of the human life cycle: birth - adulthood - illness, and death. In addition to hand gestures, the foot postures are also very flexible, the soft shape shows the tight and round curves of life.

Apsara Cambodia Hand Gestures

Apsara Cambodia Hand Gestures

Besides, the Apsara dancing girls are required to be graceful and full of vitality, which is the spiritual symbol of the Khmer people. The dancers must have a balanced body, not fat, and especially they have to point and practice the exercises. When they perform, their moves have to be very simple and gentle.

Top Places to See Apsara Dance

Cambodia considers Apsara a dance that carries the soul and is a great asset to the country. The type of dance expresses the desire for a prosperous life, the beauty of nature, and the Cambodian people.

When you visit Cambodia, it is not difficult to see young women going to temples in front of Apsara bas-reliefs, dancing, singing, and performing this traditional dance. Currently, in addition to serving the royal court, there are up to 300 Apsara dancers performing for tourists near and far at restaurants, hotels, and theaters. In the capital Phnom Penh, visitors can visit the Chaktomuk theater near the Royal Palace to enjoy the dance in the bustling music with bright and charming costumes.

Khmer Apsara Performance

Khmer Apsara Performance

There are Apsara dance festivals held at temples. However, most tourists still choose to come to Siem Reap to watch Apsara performances and have dinner at Khmer restaurants. Dinner usually starts at 6.00 pm or 7.00 pm. The dance performance starts at 7.30 pm or 8.00 pm, including 4-5 dances in about 45 - 60 minutes.

Some places serve buffets with Khmer and international dishes. Most of them have prices ranging from 10 to 25 USD per person including buffet and show. Some restaurants do not charge for the show to attract guests to dinner. For the best seats, you will have to make a reservation, especially during peak season.

Besides, places to see the Apsara dance at Siem Reap include:

  • Apsara Terrace At Raffles
  • Fou-Nan
  • Temple Balcony
  • Smile Of Angkor Wat
  • Crystal Angkor
  • Koulen II
  • The Khmer Barbeque

Above is a complete guide to Apsara Cambodia. Don't miss out on this fabulous thing to do in Cambodia and share your experiences.

If you want to find further information, go to our website at BestPrice Travel. We also provide Cambodian tours and holiday packages for those who want to explore the country.

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(Image Source: Internet)

Questions & Answers (1)

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I’m looking for a place to see Aspara dancing in Phnom Penh. Thanks

@Marlena Axel:

Hi! There's no good option for Apsara dancing show in Phnom Penh at present. You can try some buffet dinner restaurants there that offer Apsara dancing performance during dinner. Or else, it is better to come to Siem Reap where there are a lot of choice for a good show.

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