dance cambodia

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

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Mongs contact information if you are looking for an experienced reliable guide when you visit Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Mong Powers was our tuk tuk driver, guide and angel when we were in Phnom Penh in June 2009. He can also organize tours to other areas of Cambodia and Vietnam.
His contact information is….
tel: (855) 92839973 / 11497297


Simon’s blog re our dancing in Italy

To see photos and read more about our week click here…..

Vanna’s sweet note to me from Phnom Penh

Vanna sent me such a sweet response to my letter of thanks for our visit to the Harpswell dormitory in Phnom Penh. I am sure she is alright that I share it with you…

Dear Sister Kirstie,

It was wonderful day of our leadership talk, the girls gained a lot experiences from you and your team. For me the event was so much inspired to my soul,, the way that you and your team dance tell me about the real human life, we are human some time fell happy, very very happy, angry, sad, power, less power and the end human need to have freedom. It was really leadership show or I can say life skill show. It was touch me very much. And I am very much like the music, the music compositor kind of deep understand the real human life.

I am happy and welcome the word you call me “Sister”, and I count you my SISTER too.

Sister Kirstie, I thing your though to about me to talk with the SU at the US is pretty good, but I am not sure that my English could make the US people complete understand.

Please feel free to talk with me all things that you want to share, I am happy to listen and share with you as much as I can.

I am apology for not replied you on time, because a little bit busy.

With affection,

Your Sister Vanna

A WHOLE BIG change

Wednesday July 1st
Puglia, Southern Italy

Hello there,

Sorry it has been SO long since I last wrote.
Leaving Cambodia seems like a life time ago, and yet I also feel as if the whirl wind transition which took me back to Taipei for 1 night, to London for 1 night and then here to Southern Italy has given me NO time to process all the AMAZING things that happened there. All I know is that I am already planning a return trip.

So here we are – Renay, Laura and I in the middle of rural souther Italy in a region called Puglia, near Ostuni, in the heel of Italy. We are living in a place owned by Robert and Pia. They are both involved with theater, and they have a gorgeous place surrounded by olive groves, with an indoor studio, and outdoor stone amphitheatre and a large dance floor in an outdoor space next to a pond.
I have invited 15 dancers from all over Europe and the world to come and dance together in this idylic spot.

We start the day with 1/2 hour of meditation led by Pei Pei from Taiwan. Then breakfast, followed by yoga for 1 hr, and then a practice called Authentic movement which is almost like movement meditation. It’s very simple yet complex to explain right now. We do this outside in the nature with the 3 dogs running around, the sun beating down fairly strongly, so shady places are sought out. It’s a nice way to begin moving and takes place with one or more of the movers closing their eyes, while another ‘witness’ takes care they don’t encounter any danger during the 20 minutes they spend moving with eyes closed. There I have explained it a little.
Following this session we have lunch outside on a long table under the trees.

We take some hours siesta time, or going to the beach or to Ostuni to the internet (where I am now).
Around 6pm we start our evening dancing session outside on the big floor in nature. It’s cool enough by then to be dancing under the sky. Actually the weather has been strangely stormy with some rain which is most unusual for this time of year.

In a word we are having an incredible time together.

Mei and Ru-Hong (who were with us in Cambodia) are now in Hong Kong where Mei is performing a duet performance this week. What a small world we all inhabit now!

Here is a description that Simon Ellis wrote of our dance session the other night… Simon is one of the people who is with us this year. He came last year also to Syros, the island in Greece where we got together last year.
This is the fourth year we have gathered together in this way. It is a time for us to enjoy dancing and talking together. It’s a joy to be able to do this when most of us are very busy throughout the year teaching and trying to survive.

Here is Simon’s entry from his blog…..

I am sitting here watching solos and duets.
Anka and Laura are currently dancing. There is a dog close by.
The sun is going down.
Dorothy and Armand are playing.
I am finding no time to write during the day, and feel a little rude writing as these people are moving/dancing.
The space is open. A floor placed on rough grass, it’s taped together a little haphazardly.
Now Alvero is at the far edge, watching Anka who is sitting on a wall out the back.
The dissolution of the floor into the background – no walls – is important. The dancing can keep going on and on into the background.
Now the white dog is biting Alvero.
It is hard to compete with him that’s for sure.
Anka is making her way back to the space.
Kirstie is smiling.
Everyone is laughing.
The white dog is having the time of its life.
Improvisation never looked like this at all.
Alvero is soloing.
He is off balance. Rhythms with his feet.
An air drum solo.
The white dog wants to play, and is barking.
Alvero drives him off.
There is a sense of an event. It is very very strong.
A fig tree in the background.
Armand is picking up the rhythm.
We are now performing. There is no doubt about it.
The feel of the space is so different in solos and duets. There is an audience, and there are performers.
Kirstie is now soloing.
It is a little Spanish. Hips moving. fingers arced into the sky.
Shoulders taut.
She is looking away from us – -away away. A chainsaw in the distance. The rumble of thunder.
The density of information is intense (as it has been all week).
Shoulders lift, fingers flick away, her gaze is close by, and down. Playing a little with the rhythm, pushing the air away from her.
Doll like now. Spirit fingers.
Peipei enters the space.
And Mikka. His eyes are closed.
She is perched on one leg – arm outstretched.
There is quiet in the room.
White dog is back.
Peipei in full backbend, fingers tickling the air.
And now the floor.
Mikka’s eyes are opened by her noise, and play.
He remains quiet, responding to what is in the space? Arcing his body, tilting, feet in fourth.
Peipei is able to see away – the space is not simply here. It extends beyond the dance floor.
Fingers flicking.
Dorothy and Armand are playing Chinese sounding tunes. Well, I think so.
Now M and P have descended into narrative. It’s hard not to.
We are watching very closely — checking the space.
They are responding directly to each other — P’s tongue being a little naughty. She is tough. Knowing. Confident.
Here is Renee.
Looking for a partner?
She is smiling. Shoulders wriggling.
Lilting … playful, staying close to A’s cello/bass.
Released … winding, unwinding, staying with the tunes still.

To see more on Simon’s blog and photos of this most wonderful place click on……

Will try to be in touch soon.
Believe it or not it’s harder to be in communication by internet here than it was in Cambodia!

Hmmmm….. til soon, Kirstie

A selection of photos from this stay in Cambodia

The lovely house maid at Boddhi Tree Umma
The lovely house maid at Boddhi Tree Umma

Beautiful Buddha statue at National Museum
The Buddha statue in National Museum

Statue of female in National Museum
Statue of female in National Museum

Water lilly in the garden of the National Museum

Shadow puppet
Water lilly at the National Museum

Some of the staff at Boddhi Tree Umma guest house (the one in front was our main man in the workshop!)
SOme of the staff at the Boddhi Tree Umma guest house

Young audience at the shadow puppet performance
The performance at Savanaphum

Young Art students
Art students

Shadow puppet

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.

Our Visit to the Harpswell Dormitory and Leadership Center for Women

Sunday 21st June

At 8.15 this morning Mong picked us up and took us to the Harpswell Dormitory for Women. A professor from one of the universities in Boston built the dormitory three years ago. The story is that he met a Cambodian woman in the US who had studied law in Phnom Penh, and had lived in the basement of the university while she was there. This is because for women who don’t live in Phnom Penh and have no extended family in the city, it is impossible to find somewhere to live. The young men that come from the provinces can live in the religious institutions during their studies, but this is not possible for women.
In response to meeting this young Cambodian lawyer in the US he decided to build a dormitory in Phnom Penh specifically for the brightest young women from the provinces, so they have somewhere to live, which allows them the opportunity to study at university. Over 1000 women apply to the dormitory each year and only 34 women are chosen. The young women who are often from extremely poor families can stay there for free while they are studying. (I hope I have got all my facts right here – you can check by looking at their web site:
We spent the whole day with the women and with Vanna Peou, their dormitory mother, who obviously does extraordinary work with them.
These women are all studying at the universities in Phnom Penh. Their majors are in such subjects as law, economics, sociology, accounting and banking.
They are basically being educated and primed to be future leaders in Cambodia.
We knew that we were going to speak with them about leadership, and to dance for them and watch some of their dancing, but we never imagined that it would be such a moving and enthralling experience being together.
We all sat in their kitchen together. They found small stools for us. Some of us and all of them sat on the tiled floor.
We began by introducing ourselves to them and they to us. We spoke about our own experience of taking leadership roles through teaching, creating work with other people, and our thoughts about the importance of finding alternative ways to think about leadership. We asked them about their experiences which they shared enthusiastically.

Vanna Peou and some of the women
Vanna Peou and some of the women

Young women of Harpswell
Young women of Harpswell

Very soon it was obvious that the women’s definition of what leadership constitutes was much broader than the narrow way certainly I was thinking about it. To them leadership is synonymous to ‘taking responsibility’ in every aspect of your life. They spoke eloquently about the absolute importance of personal integrity when taking responsibility. They stunned us with the description of their way of life in the dormitory, and how they discuss world affairs and discussions on various topics, always from the perspective of leadership, or taking responsibility. They also spoke about the way they work together in all ways, helping and supporting each other in their learning and decision-making. They live happily together in an egalitarian fashion.
Young women’s attentive faces
Young women's attentive faces

We spoke a lot about the role of women in their society and in ours, and that despite the fact women have more opportunities in the west, the essential issues that are faced by women in Cambodia and the fight for their rights to be leaders and respected members of their communities, are the same issues being addressed by women all over the world.
Vanna is very clear that the situation for women and for a leadership that is radically different from what most of the world is currently experiencing, will come about through the education of women, because it is women who in turn bring up and educate children. So that it will be women who change society by changing themselves. She had been warned before she took the job at the dormitory that it would be impossible to bring about the kind of harmony and egalitarian living that she wanted to encourage within a group of young women. She was warned that there would be constant arguing and unhappiness. She has proved all these people to be wrong. The dormitory is one of the happiest places I have had the good fortune to visit. The women were remarkably curious and self possessed without a trace of arrogance. How they spoke about leadership was extraordinary, very human and passionate. They expressed a care for their country and the state of the world that was deeply moving and the way they were looking to the future was full of confidence and founded in goodness, respect and the desire to bring people together.
We felt inspired and thrilled to be with a large group of women in this way, in that little kitchen speaking together about leadership.
If any of you that are reading this blog ever visit Cambodia you MUST visit the dormitory.
I told Vanna that I thought she and the women should tour the US, UK and EU and speak to people about what they are discovering together and how they are addressing the issues of leadership. There is something truly remarkable happening in this place.
They are in the process of building a second dormitory so that more of Cambodia’s poor and bright young women can profit from this opportunity, and in the end Cambodia and the rest of the world will profit greatly from what they are discovering together through the great care and love of Vanna Peou. She is a remarkable woman with a true vision of what is possible and how the world can change.

After this couple of hours speaking together Renay, Laura, Mei and I did a short demonstration of our dancing for them. They seemed to love what we did and asked us very astute questions about the nature of our work. Throughout the day these women were not shy to ask questions and to offer their points of view.

Mei and Renay performing in the kitchen
Mei and Renay performing in the kitchen

We went downstairs onto the front patio and ate a delicious vegetarian lunch that the women had prepared together for us. They do all the cooking and cleaning in the dormitory. This was the first time they had prepared a vegetarian meal.

After scrumptious food we were ushered into one of the very nice rooms with 2 bunk beds. Laura and I were given a bed each and we were able to rest peacefully for a while. Dealing with the intense heat and humidity in Cambodia is exhausting!
After resting we showed them some DVDs of our work, sitting together in an atmosphere of tremendous intimacy in one of their small study rooms where they have a television. As more women had joined us in the afternoon Vanna asked us to do another demonstration of improvisation, which we did in the outdoor space downstairs. The women then did some demonstrations for us of their own traditional dancing. We learned some of their dancing and they learned some of ours. It was a happy time for us all, and I felt that the dancing justly celebrated all the things we had talked about together throughout the day.
By the time we left around 4.30pm we were all highly inspired and excited.

View from top floor of dormitory
View from the top floor of dormitory

Performance downstairs
Performance in the downstairs space
In the bushes
In the bushes
More plant dancing
More plant dancing
More plant dancing
More plant dancing

This is a day that has made our trip here memorable. I will not forget the young women and their leader Vanna. I know that I will be returning to visit them, and I am very interested in what they will all do in the future.

It is possible for women to spend two months in residence at the dormitory, helping the young Cambodian women with their English and other aspects of their education. This would be something I would highly recommend to anyone who is looking for something worthwhile to do and I am sure it would be a tremendous learning experience.