Home -> Dances

Divine Apsara Dance

Divine Dance ApsaraThe most famous women in Cambodia are Apsara dancers, whose sophisticated images survived even till today from a distant era, but with some significant changes in the appearance. And even their faces are imprinted on huge stone boards, which have been seen on houses in Siem Reap, give out all their charm and fill up the area with unique and very relaxing but mysterious atmosphere. 

Ancient Khmer dances were formed under the strong influence of India, where they were considered gods gifts to people. That's why so many similarities in the plots and movements of dancers are seen in both countries. And the name "Apsara", which in Sanskrit means "high-water", was taken from Hindu mythology.

Origin of Apsara Dance

According to the legends Apsara dancers emerged at the will of the gods of the ocean waters, but no one wanted to marry them, and they belong to everyone. In fact they are demigoddesses or heavenly celestial nymphs that were there to please the gods, ascetics, musicians and fallen heroes in heaven. One can even say that they were a kind of courtesans who perfectly knew the art of seduction, including the art of very beautiful and amazingly skilled dance.

Divine Dance ApsaraApsara dancers’ images can be found on the walls of almost all ancient temples of Cambodia, which has even the inscriptions with the names of the dancers. There are thousands of them, frozen in motion of skilled dancing, and none of them are alike: they are engraved with different expressions, turnings of the head, settings of their hands, with a variety of fine jewelry and clothing. Though there is another very interesting feature of the Apsara dancers, the temple dancers were dancing without any top clothes, the evidence for this is seen on the bas-reliefs of Angkor Wat and other temples. However modern dancers are fully dressed with amazingly beautiful dresses, and thus are even more beautiful and not less seductive in their dancing skills:      

Royal Apsara Dancers

At the royal temples the Apsara dancers where performing half-naked until the late 19th century until when the French colonized Cambodia, and who began the fighting for sanctimonious morality and banned this "outrage", thus covering this shame with beautiful fabrics. Since then, the dancers are not allowed to perform topless and thus cover themselves with the exquisite embroidered with gold threads clothing, sometimes resembling a sari. 

Though the current dance and the dancer’s image didn’t go without the Chinese influence, and first of all, on some outfits of the dancing girls, whose figures were raised by pointed decoration on the shoulders giving the outlines of the pagoda. The costumes of the Apsara dancers are colorful and impressive with their brightness. Golden hats encircle their heads, towering over with pinnacle. Metal belt acts as a talisman. Before it was used to be done by individual order with the image of the goddess and the dancer herself, how it is now depends on the greatness of the dancer and the dancing school she is representing. Though the whole image of the dancer is very majestic and thus modern Apsara dancers appear during their performances to the public (at Cambodian New Year celebrations for example), causing the genuine delight among the viewers who had the chance to be delighted by this exotic dance.

Divine Dance Apsara 2nd part

In the days of the monarchy and the temple Apsara dancing was considered an elitist art, and the dancers themselves had special privileges, as they were living and brought up in the royal palaces like serfs actresses. Therefore to be the temple Apsara dancer was a great honor, and the dancers themselves were greatly honored, because not every khmera woman could appear before the eyes of the king.

The Fall of Apsara Dance

The most difficult times has come for the dancers when the power of the temple went to the Pol Pot, who drove the royal attendants of the rice fields. Not all came back out alive, and few who were lucky enough not to starve or perish in prison, returned to the profession as teachers, maintaining the tradition of Cambodian dance.

Modern Apsara Dancing

They say that now there are hundreds of young women willing to learn the skills and majestic wonder of the Apsara dance. It is believed that the dancers make pretty good money. But in order to achieve perfection and grace, you need to work hard from the very childhood, constantly developing joints of the hands and feet. These training are not needed to perform fouetté or other movements as in ballet. Apsara is a dance and a sign language dance, fixing every position and hand movement, as in yoga, showing everything with the signs and gestures. Therefore the Apsara dances are, in general, measured and a little slow, sometimes even resembling physical exercises.

Divine Dance Apsara 2nd part

Movements and the Core of the Dance

If you look at the postures and movements of the dancers, you can see that they are carried out with a straight body, feet splayed outward and upward curved fingers slightly bent legs, making small steps. Putting the heel to the toe, a dancer literally minces, lightly springing the knees.

At the same time their hands are like living their own independent life, constantly moving around the body. It is mainly the agile hands movements and, in particular, the fingers are attracting with the breathtaking elegance as they bent in the opposite directions and about 90 degrees, that are admired the most by the viewers. Such flexibility can be achieved only by constant stretching exercises for the tendons and the hand joints.

From the first bend, you can see that many viewers try to wring their fingers, as do the dancers, but nothing works out. Ceasing to break your hands, you again focused on the dancers who dwell in the power of dance and leisurely continue to amaze with the flexibility of their limbs in every gesture, which has a certain value. The slightest change in the position of fingers and the meaning of the dance word is already changed. Experts have made it clear that, for example, tightly squeezed four fingers and separately set out thumb that touches the bottom of the index finger, means the celebration of victory, but with a laid aside - is already symbolizing a prayer.

In some dances you can also see a man, but he plays the role of the unpresentable demon, clown or animal in a specific mask. But the orchestra, providing the dance music for the movements, is composed entirely of men. Basic tools are wooden flutes, drums that are covered with the buffalo leather, and reminiscent of the sound and sight a xylophone with a small hammer, that pulls out of the instrument a silver jingle.

To comprehend all the wisdom of the Cambodian dance is a difficult task. They said that this dance is a verse in which every movement is the word.

Also don't forget to buy portable solar charger prior travelling to Cambodia. It will provide you with electricity in the wildest corners of the country. And if you always want to look great also consider taking portable iron with you.

New Of Cambodia