dance cambodia

An exchange of art and culture which carries with it a message of peace and caring.

Our last two days in Phnom Penh

After yesterday how could things get any better? Yet here in Cambodia each adventure leads to the next, and each one brings more heart ache, in the most human and positive sense, encouraging the heart to be pried open little by little.

Today we visited the art school in Phnom Penh where they have 4 years of study. The students don’t have to pay to go to the art school, and they are free to come and go as they wish. They study half the day at school and then come to the art school in the afternoon, so there are students at the school ranging in age from 13 – 27.
Their classes vary from traditional Cambodian painting to modern art and also video.
They have just a couple of teachers on salary. Once again it is very rudimentary.
We saw some examples of paintings done by a 14 year old that were incredible.
As with all the other foundations and schools we have visited in Cambodia this year has been very hard for them because of the global financial troubles. It seems the art school just manages to keep going through private donations.
In Cambodia there is no such thing as governmental support for the arts at all. The only institutions that are supported are the universities.

Painting done by a 14 year old
Painting done by a 14 year old

Young art student
Young art student

Art history teacher, and man that showed us around the school
The man that showed us around

Art student
Art student

We then visited Cambodian Living Arts for the second time to watch a music class.
We met one of the women Masters, the assistant Masters and some of the young students playing the traditional instruments. One of the girls translated our questions and told us about their music and the instruments. Her English was very good. We bought some of the CDs that the center produces of the Masters that teach there.
It seems this Master was one of the first women to become an accomplished traditional musician, and she is now teaching the next generation.

Master teaching the young boy on the big drums
Master teaching the young boy on the big drums

Master and students at Cambodian Living Arts
Master and students

More photos to follow tonight

At 4pm we went by tuktuk with faithful Mong, to an organization called Tiny Tunes. We arrived and walked into a place that was full of children of all ages practicing hip hop and break dancing to the beat of American style music. It was extremely hot and humid when we arrived and there was something incongruous about hearing the hip hop beat in this country. We sat down on the tiled floor feeling damp, sticky and dirty, which is something you get used to here in Phnom Penh, with the young people who were practicing their dance together, spinning on their heads, on their backs, on their arms, on their feet. In a word doing the most incredible and dangerous looking steps and acrobatic moves. Let’s say that I would not risk that kind of movement on the hard tiled floor. In the middle if the scene we saw KK – it was hard to tell his age but we found out later that he was only 32. Dressed in typical street gear, tattooed all over, and very concentrated on what was occurring within the circle of dancing.
We watched the dancing for an hour at least, and then KK suggested he show us round the building, that turned out to have a sound studio, a room where a DJ was training a young Cambodian man, a computer room, and a couple of class rooms. Some 8 children lived there permanently, and during the day the place is a school for the children, and in the evening it is a break dance and hip hop school. As I write this I realize you will have a very different image of the facilities as I try to describe them. In actuality it was all very rudimentary, old computer screens, very basic wooden desks and benches, little or no decoration, but clean and tidy.
KK told us his whole story.

KK in red hat and sweat pants with kids
KK in the red hat and sweat pants

KK and students at Tiny Toones in Phnom Penh
KK at Tiny Toones in Phnom Penh

Tiny Toones
Tiny Toones

Hearing KK’s story upstairs in the classroom
Talking with KK upstairs in the class room

He was a Cambodian American living in L.A. until about 5 years ago when he was deported from the US for gang related violence. He told us he had spent 11 years of his life in prison in the US. It seems he was in prison from the age of 16. (I remembered I had read an article about him in a magazine in the US)

When he came to Cambodia he changed his life. He began to help the poor street kids, first of all through another aid organization. Gradually, as the kids found out he could dance hip hop and breaking, they begged him to teach them.
There are now 7 such centers for street dance in Phnom Penh that he heads, and 5000 street kids are involved. He told us about how he changed his life. We asked about the effect this has had on his old friends and gang members in L.A.
He told us how in the gangs, he saw that the older members used the young kids to perpetrate their violence. He called them fakes. He told us how he had come to see that violence doesn’t work. We stood around him in the upstairs classroom as he talked in the gathering darkness. It was so deeply moving to see his vulnerability and absolute honesty. There was a great deal of love that emanated from him as spoke. I actually couldn’t believe what was happening, and the situation that had developed. This tough looking tattooed individual that could appear to be quite intimidating, was infact a soft and loving man. He also told us that he feared for his life always, because he knew there were people who wanted to prove themselves through bringing about his death. He said that he accepted all of this as his lot.
He had adopted and 4 year old boy whose parents were heavy drug users. And his whole life is now dedicated to helping the street children. To see someone who had transformed their life in this way made me want to bow down before him in gratitude, for the hope that someone like this gives to all of us. I thanked him from my heart.
This was another Cambodian adventure that has rocked my life. You cannot be unaffected by what happens in this country. It is truly remarkable.

It is late evening now, when Phnom Penh has cooled off just enough to feel comfortable. I am sitting at the table with RuHong and her friend Yen-Ling, RuHong’s friend from Taiwan who is an ‘almost famous’ anthropologist (I believe I told you all of this before!). I am always one of the last to bed and the first up. It’s too exciting being here to miss any of the action. People go to bed early in Phnom Penh. By 9pm there is quiet all around, and always a kind of deathly hush that surrounds this area from Toul Sleng Genocide museum directly across the road from the guest house. I like to be here so close to the constant reminder of the horror that has happened in this country.

Tomorrow is sadly our last day. We have some last things to do in the morning. In the afternoon we will be teaching the young men from the Boddhi Tree Guest houses. We will use the stage at Savanah Poon (the small theater where we saw the shadow puppets). Manuel the owner of the Boddhi Tree guest houses, is treating each of us to a 1 ½ hr massage in return for teaching his young men. I am sure it will be another amazing day.

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1 Comment»

  Ninh wrote @

Hope is not a wish but action…


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