dance cambodia

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

A note from Kirstie Simson

On June 1st Kirstie Simson, professor in dance at the University of Illinois, will be
traveling to Taiwan with Renay Aumiller and Laura Chiarmonte who will both have just
graduated with an MFA in dance.
This trip will be a kind of right of passage for Renay and Laura as they transition into
their new lives outside the university.

I have been to Taiwan five times in the past few years to teach and perform. It remains
one of my favorite places to go and dance. The Taiwanese are the nicest people and the
most wonderful dancers. I have a special friend there called Mei Li, who trained in dance
at the London School of Contemporary dance. I met her shortly after she finished her
dance training and she has organized all of my trips to Taiwan.

During our time there Renay, Laura and I will be teaching dance classes for the Taipei
Dance Community. We will be staying on a mountain-side just outside Taipei with Mei
Li and her friend RuHong. We will study Tai Chi with Mei’s teacher who is 90+ years of
age, and is very excited about our intended visit.
We will also create a dance performance for the four of us,  that we will perform at the
Taipei Artist Village (an artist residency center in Taipei) before we leave for Cambodia
on the weekend of June 13/14.

We will leave for Cambodia to visit Arn Chorn Ponds school of music in
Phnom Penh.
Arn Chorn Pond is an extraordinary man who I met at the Spurlock Museum in Urbana in
September 2008 when he was giving a talk there. He is a spokesperson for peace and
works for Amnesty International. His life story is a harrowing one as at the age of 9 years
old the Pol Pot regime came to power in his country and began their rule of terror. Arn
survived only because he was a gifted flute player and he played the revolutionary songs
for the Pol Pot regime. He saw the atrocities that were committed against his people. He
also lost his whole family who were executed by the regime because they were artists.
He was then forced to become a boy soldier and was made to kill others. He escaped
through the jungle to Thailand and was found there and adopted by an American priest
who bought him to America to start a new and radically different life. His adopted father
urged Arn to start to talk about his experiences, which he has now been doing for some
There has been a documentary made about his life called ‘The Flute Player’ and he is
presently busy writing a book.
When I heard Arn tell his story at the Spurlock museum and saw him cry infront of the
audience and then thank us for letting him do so, I was touched very deeply by his
humanity and how he has transformed his life’s tragedies to serve the common good. He
speaks a lot in schools to American children urging them to stop being consumers and to
start to care for the world. His words carry enormous power because of his own life
experiences and the fact he has powerfully transformed his life to serve others.
His passion is a school in Cambodia that he founded to help regenerate the traditional
music of Cambodia which the Pol Pot regime tried to destroy.

When I spoke to Arn in September I told him I would like to come to Cambodia to meet
the masters and students at his school and he was thrilled. I thought then that it would be
wonderful to go with some students from the University here.
I have kept in e-mail contact with Arn and he is very excited that we are coming in June.

Renay, Laura, Mei, RuHong and I will go together.
We are also going to research other places where we can go in Cambodia to meet and work
with Cambodian dancers and artists as well as Cambodian children. We would like to
share our art form with them and to learn about theirs. An exchange of art and culture
which carries with it a message of peace and caring.

There is a place in Southern Cambodia that is a center for Cambodian dancers who have
been injured through accidents involving mines. We hope to go and visit them.
Everywhere we go we hope to be able to give workshops and performances

We will be documenting our journey together throughout our time in Taiwan and
Cambodia so that when we return to Urbana and the US we can share our adventures with
anyone that would be interested.

Thank you so much for your support!

Kirstie Simson

Professor Department of Dance

University of Illinois Urbana Champaign



  Katrina McPherson wrote @

The trip sounds like it will be fascinating and I can’t wait to see/hear more. Have fun and take care. Katrinax

  Janet Smith wrote @

Your blog makes really inspiring reading. I’d love to see images of your journey and these extraordinary people and places. What an inspiring model for personal and international development: Art connects humanity, cultural difference is an adventure, learning is cross generational, cross arts and cross cultural. Sounds like a lot of fun too! Glad you put it out there to share. Thanks, Janet

  Elvira Perpinya wrote @

Hello Kirstie, I’m Elvira, we had supper in Barcelona last year in Antonio’s house. Its so nice to have news from you, last night Carmen saw him and gave us this link. I enjoy so mucho every thing you do. Although we have nothing to do with dance or improvement, we deal a lot with emotion and care… in some way it is the same. Its seems you are comint to Barcelona, we would love to watch you working, if that could be possible. Congratulations again for your work. I hope we can meet soon. Lots of love Elvira and Carmen

  Bob Ruijzendaal wrote @

Great and inspiring blog. Good to see people being involved in cambodian dance as you are. I Work in PP for a couple of years now. Somehow you missed us. Maybe you could check out our site, look at the trailer of our last years and follow the more recent work if you like.
Greetings from a fellow dance lover Bob

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