About Khmer Dances
Since there have been many requests, The Website team conducted studies and researches into some documents about Khmer Dance, a precious legacy left over by our ancestors for the next generations. Phnom Penh Capital Hall wishes to excerpt some contents concerning dances in Cambodia from a book on Khmer Dances published in 2001 and written by H.E PICH Tum Kravil, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts (MCFA) and chairman of the Committee of Arts and Culture Research at MCFA as follows:
Dances are also the same to operas, music, song, poem, sculpture and other forms of arts, which are needed by Khmer people for their daily lives. Khmer performs dance not only for invocation of deities and spirits for happiness; for rain in farming; invocation of sacred objects to prevent harms; and for invocation of happiness when moving into new villages, but also for entertainment and tiredness or fatigue relief after hectic schedule.
Generally, dances in Cambodia are different in terms of their sources, origins, forms, colors and roles in the society.
  • • Some dances, which were originated from Brahmanism and had undergone many stages before they were transformed as form of art to serve Mahayana Buddhism and then Theravada Buddhism, are kinds of deity dances estimated to be the work of dance masters and then staged in ceremonies at the Royal Place.
  • • Others—which were originated from spirit beliefs (Native Khmers’ beliefs) and passed from one generation to the next—are considered as an “inheritance” of Khmers and all indigenous people who live in different areas of the Kingdom of Cambodia and have different habits. Researchers found that the dances are the work made up by the folks, farmers, and so on.
  • • Another kind of dances is the most popular throughout Cambodia—that is, such dance exists everywhere, whether or not in urban or rural, mountainous, plateau or coastal areas…and another feature of it is that [all] people, whether boys or girls, men or women, could dance it.

Its role in the society is for entertainment and pleasure or it is a kind of dances for relaxation,
pleasure and tiredness or fatigue relieving after work. Thanks to the existence of various kinds of dances in the Kingdom, Khmers breaks dances into three kinds and names them based on their features: Khmer classical court dance or Royal Ballet of Cambodia, traditional dances and folk dance.

1. Khmer classical court dance or Royal Ballet :

Khmer classical court dance or Royal Ballet or Robam Preah Reach Trop (dances of royal wealth) or Lakhon Preah Reach Trop (theatre of royal wealth) is a form of dances or theatres which dated back to several centuries ago; in Cambodia, a form of a sacred art (deity art) originated from Brahmanism; and the most professional and elegant form compared to others in Cambodia. Since its inception, such dance has been performed by female performers though in male characters, while its performance is noticeably different from other theatres, of over 20 forms in Cambodia. During performances, female dancers of all ancient dances neither sing nor imitate the narration of stories in such theatres as Lakhon khol or masked dance theatre and actors, but have to grammatically use body language, the meaning of which is in line with group singing mostly sung by female vocalists during the performance of dances or theatres. Khmer classical court dances or Robam Preah Reach Trop includes Robam Choung Por (blessing dance), Robam Tep Monorum, Apsara dance, Robam Ream Leak, Robam Chup Leak, Robam Muny Mekhala, Robam Sovann Maccha, Robam Pream (Brahman dance), Robam Tien (candle dance),etc. The orchestra for Khmer classical court dance features sacred art and the music is played by a Pinpeat orchestra.

2. Traditional Khmer Dance

Traditional dance is always linked to tradition and refers to dances passed from one generation to the next (inheritance left long time ago by Khmers and other ethnicities—whether their favorites were alike or different and who live in different parts in Cambodia, whether in mountainous and coastal areas and plateau and plain areas in Mekong River. [The] research team made its studies and researches into such dances copied from people in all areas as :
1. Trod dance 11. Robam Kontere (Kontere Dance) 21. Robam Veay Kuoy (Kuoy Warrior Dance) 31. Robam Bo Ko (cow cart dance/td>
2. Neang Mev Trod dance 12. Robam Chram (Chram Dance) 22. Robam Chak Kroeul (Chak Kroeul dance) 32. Robam Chrot Srov (Rice Harvest Dance)
3. Peacock of Pailin dance 13. Robam Veay Krap (Krap Dance) 23. Robam Tbal Kap (Tbal Kap dance) 33. Robam Bok Leak (Gum-Lacquer Pounding Dance)
4.Rice-winnowing dance 14. Robam Antung Hen (Antung Hen Dance) 24. Robam Arak Cham (Arak Cham dance) 34. Robam Kanseng Sne (Scarf on Love Dance)
5. Peacock of Pursat dance 15. Robam Kous Trolouk (Coconut shell dance) 25. Robam Sna (Crossbow Dance) 35. Robam Chak Angkrang (Large Red Ant Harvesting Dance)
6. Cardamom harvest dance 16. Robam Kuos Ang-Re (Pestle Dance) 26. Robam Nesat (Fishing Dance) 36. Robam Chaiyam (Chaiyam dance)
7. Robam Sen Ploy (Sen Ploy Dance) 17. Robam Tonetin (Tonetin dance) 27. Robam Kangkep (Frog dance) 37. Robam Dal Ambok (Dal Ambok dance
8. Robam Sneng Tunsong (Wild Ox dance) 18. Robam Kap Krobey Poek Sra (Sacrifice of buffalo dance) 28. Robam Apea Pipea Baksey (Bird Wedding Dance) 38. Robam Skor (Drum Dance)
9. Robam Poat Rung (Poat Rung dance) 19. Ram Vong Phum Thmey (New village dance) 29. Robam Skor Thnout (palm sugar dance) 39. Robam Kong Suoy (Suoy gong dance)
10. Robam Ploy Say (Ploy Say Dance 20. Robam Ken (Ken Dance) 30. Robam Ka’am (clay pot dance) 40. Robam Kong Smieng (Smieng gong dance)
Many dances are still in the hands of people (kept by them); [hence], we haven’t studied, recorded or shot them for wide dissemination yet, especially those linked to traditional and custom ceremonies of Khmer people and other ethnicities who live in rural areas, whether or not in forestry, mountainous and plain areas and in the coastal areas. We aim to further study, research, record and shoot these dances.

3. Khmer Folk Dance (Ramvong and Ramkbach) :

Khmer folk dance is not different from such popular Khmer games as Chaol Chhoung or “throwing kroma knot”, Leak Kanseng (Kanseng, a Cambodian towel twisted into around shape), "Chab Kon Kleng (a game played by imitating a hen as she protects her chicks from a crow), Boh Angkunh (throwing brown seeds), Sdach Chang (the King wants) or other games that Khmer people like playing during traditional festivals or celebrations, especially at Khmer New Year. Folk dance: Ramvong and Ramkbach are popular throughout the Kingdom: it is as popular in rural areas as in urban areas; and as popular in mountainous areas as in costal and plain ones. It is easy to remember, learn and perform; therefore, it is noticed that all Khmer people, whether or not the King, officers, and subjects: men or women and boys or girls, know how to dance it.
Ramvong—a feature of such dance—is a slow circle dance continuously moving in a circle and danced for pleasure and for relieving tiredness or fatigue after work. As per its history, if we depend on few written papers and so far real lives, we think that Ramvong dance dated to many centuries ago in Cambodia as both Khmers and other ethnic groups like Phnong, Krueng, Tompuon and Prov people have performed this circular dance style since ancient times.
Saravan Dance........................................................ Folk Game
Folk Games
  • • Highland Khmers in the north-east or forestry or mountainous areas of Cambodia like dancing for pleasure around a bonfire at night. Such habit of the circular dance around the bonfire has dated to thousands of years and has existed until now.
  • • Leang Arak or Leang Neakta, that is, the annual ceremony pays homage to local village spirits is conducted. (Ancient Khmers’ beliefs in ancient time before the existence of Brahmanism and Buddhism in Sovannaphumi Peninsula around 309 B.C, according to venerable Monk Pang Khatt). Khmers always built a roofed structure surrounded by bamboo / wooden fence and mediums and Memut (spirit messenger) performed a circular dance around the structure during the ceremony.
  • • The sculptures on Bayon temple’s wall built by Jayavaraman VII show sacrifice of the buffalo ceremony of such ethnic group as Phnong Krueng, [and] Tompuon dated back to thousands of years ago and the dance so far kept by them is performed in a circular movement.
Moreover, such indigenous groups as Prov, Phnong, Krueng [and] Tompuon still adhere to a custom: “Ramvong Phum Thmey” translated into indigenous language as “Ramvong Sruk Han Toeum. Ramvong Phum Thmey is performed when indigenous people move into a new village. Generally, in three to seven years before moving into a new village or from the old one, the leader of the tribe and elders always conduct various ceremonies as per their belief in an aim to find a new location with fertile geography with enough water source and security for business. Upon the selection of the new location, they carry out a ceremony so as to determine how long they will live in the new location. The ceremony is presided over by the tribe leader and elders who slice Bro Teal (succulent plants). They are much used in traditional medicines and are widely believed to be inhabited by spirits and have specific magical properties) into seven pieces and fall them down from upper position. The number of years they can live in the new location depends on the number of pieces of such plant turned upside down. If three or five pieces of the plant are, for example, turned upside down, they will live in the new location for three or five years. This belief has so far been followed since ancient time. Having found the new location, the tribe leader makes an announcement to ask people to move from the old village into a new one. Upon arrival at the new village, the first thing they have to do is to perform Ramvong Phum Thmey.
Lamleav Dance......................................... Ramvong Dance
Some remaining documents and many pieces of information we received from the elders clarify that Cambodia has seen the improvement of Ramvong and Ramkbach dances in the 20th century during which maybe some foreign words, namely Roam Lam Thon or Lork Lam Thon (Thon translated as drum) were used by Khmers because troops of the Khmer Isarak—who made an alliance with those of Laos Isarak and were during the time stationed in deep forests along the Cardamom, Oral and Dang Rek mountains in the north-east of Cambodia or in coastal areas— danced Ramvong dance in which a Skor Dey ( a kind of small drum similar to a bongo drum) was used and sang which made it easy to entertain according to circumstances of struggling and living in the deep forest. It should be noted that Skor Dey is a drum in Khmer’s Arak or traditional (wedding) orchestra dated backed to thousands of years ago. Folk dance has improved so much that people in some places dance where only Skor Dey is used; and sometimes people dance in Khmer orchestra where such musical instruments as drum, Tro ( Khmer stringed instrument similar to the violin; it has two strings and is played with a bow), Roneat (xylophone with bamboo or teak wood keys) and others are used; and in modern orchestras where Skor Dey has been used up to now.