The Apsara dance is a traditional dance of the Kingdom of Cambodia, dating back to the 7th century. The famous Angkorian-period Khmer King, Javayarman VII (12th century), was said to have over 3,000 Apsara dancers in his court.
This dance is an essential part of the Khmer culture. It finds its roots in both Hindu and Buddhist mythologies. According to Hindu mythology, Apsaras were beautiful female creatures that descended from heaven to entertain Gods and Kings with their dance.
As the Apsara dance is extremely complex, Cambodian children (particularly girls) are trained from a very young age to get enough flexibility to execute intricate movements. Some movements require them to bend their fingers almost to their wrists. Every single movement of their fingers has a particular meaning. Apsara dancers are always well-dressed with traditional costumes. This can also be seen on the Angkor temples’ walls. They wear elegant silk clothes with floral motifs, magnificent headdresses, and jewelry.
The Apsara dance had almost disappeared during the Khmer Rouge period (1975-1979), but the tradition remained. This is because a few surviving dancers passed on their knowledge to the younger generations. One of the most popular figures of the Apsara revival was the late King Norodom Sihanouk’s daughter, Princess Bopha Devi. She went on to become the face of Khmer traditional dance in the 1950s and 1960s, in Cambodia and around the world.
In 2003, UNESCO recognized the Apsara dance as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
A visit to Cambodia wouldn’t be complete without watching a performance of this unique and beautiful dance. Contact Green Cultural Travel to find out where is the best place to view an Apsara dance. You may then book a dance and dinner tour if you wish!