No visit to the mysterious kingdom of Cambodia is complete without watching the renowned magic Apsara dance, traditional dance of Khmer people. The Apsara dance is famous because of not only its beauty but also its invisible enchant and magical appeal.
Apsara Dance is a classical style Khmer dance named for the “heavenly dance”, dating back to the Angkorian era. It is better described as 'dance-drama' in that the dances are not merely dance but are also meant to convey a story or message. Carvings of Apsara dancers can be found at many bas reliefs in many ancient Ankor temples.
An elegant dance inspired by beautiful fairies in Hinduism
Originated from Hinduism, this passionate dance is performed by Apsara fairies, who dance to entertain powerful Gods. They are incredibly gorgeous with gentle gestures, elegant behaviors and able to sing and dance beautifully. They are also special maids of Indra, the lord of all gods, representing wars, storms and wind.
Apsara dance used to be performed for royal family and imperial people to entertain. Not until 2000, when the massive Cambodian tourism started to open, has Apsara been popularized in travel destinations for visitors to enjoy The Traditional Khmer Art & Culture. This attractive dance was soon to be realized as a hidden treasure of Cambodia when it was recognized as World’s Intangible culture heritage in 2003 by UNESCO.
Bas Relief of Apsara Dancers
A classic Apsara dance is often performed by a group of attractive dancers with one skillful and outstanding leader. They perform gently, leisurely and comfortably as if they were just in the middle of wandering and playing around their own royal garden, which is lightened by their exceptional beauty. The typical dance movement of Apsara dance is easily to be distinguished from any dances in the world by its unique and leisure pace. Apsara dancers move so slowly, delicately that people sometimes feel they are moving statues stepping out from the soulful carvings on the ancient temples. It’s hard to distinguish between real Apsara dancers and the lively Apsara sculptured images on the stones. Two become as one in the vague harmony of the present and the past, the real life and the magical Cambodian stories.
Apsara dance – the traditional dance of Khmer people arrived in Cambodia about 2000 years ago (century 1) along with Hinduism. Both were developing rapidly in Angkor era. Apsara quickly became indispensible in every special occasion and event to honor Hinduism Gods. It’s estimated there were about 3000 Apsara dancers during Jayavarman Empire. This was an incredible number in comparison with the country’s population at that time.
Apsara dance performance while having dinner at many restaurants
Nowadays, Apsara dance performances are shorter, opener and more comfortable than the classic ones but they still keep their perfect movements and the sensitive soul of the classic dances. Apsara dancers who are charming and full are symbols of Khmer spirit. As a famous dance of elegance, nobility and softness, every movement displays a balance in soul, no frustration or rush. In performances, Apsara dancers wear tight shirts in bright colors, traditional sampot skirts, and hat in temple-shape which is golden and decorated very sophisticatedly. To be Apsara dancers, women must have fit body, not too skinny or too fat. Especially, their hands and fingers should be small, long and tapering, lung should be straight, and waist should be small.
The mysterious Apsara dance inspired the sculptured art in Angkor Temples a lot. The primitive carvings reappeared daily life of Cambodian people in which Apsara was a crucial image. Later Apsara and sculpture art developed simultaneously, people couldn’t classify which one inspired the other. The charming images of Apsara dancers were endless materials for stone sculpture art, and vice versa, the creative sculptors sometimes suggested new dancing ideas with bold and unique movements.
Unique slow and gentle movement of Apsara Dance
The Apsara dance is unique because of their perfect relationship with the whole culture of Cambodia. It’s one of the hidden charm in the Cambodia religion as well as a friendly figure in their daily life. Now travelers to Cambodia could see many images of Apsara dancers “alive” on ancient sculptures for well-known Angkor Temples and other sacred shines throughout the kingdom. Some of luxury Cambodia tours design an outdoor Apsara performance right in Angkor Temples which is the perfect choice to enjoy the Apsara at its best. On the legendary backdrop of the ancient temples and the magical atmosphere of a historic land, the Apsara dance performance is actually an experience of a lifetime.