Monday, April 30, 2007

Chea Samy - her classical dance legacy

Chea Samy is credited with reviving Khmer classical dance after the Khmer Rouge had decimated Cambodia's dance elite in the late 70s. When she returned to Phnom Penh in April 1979, the Ministry of Culture arranged for her to travel throughout the country to search for surviving teachers and young, talented dancers. She was sixty years old and had to start from scratch in order to resurrect her country's premier art-form. Today, classical dance in Cambodia is thriving both at home and abroad, thanks to her legacy.

Chea Samy began studying classical dance at the age of six in 1925, as a palace dancer for King Sisowath Monivong. By the time she was thirty, she had become a teacher of the royal ballet troupe. In 1975, she was herded out of the capital to a farm in Kompong Thom province, where she was put to work collecting manure for fertilizer, masking her true identity, claiming she was a market vendor. At the time, she was unaware that by an incredible quirk of fate, her husband's younger brother, Saloth Sar, was none other than Pol Pot, leader of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime that oversaw the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodians. Having played a pivotal role in resuscitating her beloved classical dance, Chea Samy died in June 1994 at the age of seventy-five. [photo: copyright John Spragens Jr]

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