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US Dance Troupe Keeps Traditions Alive

PHOTO SLIDESHOW by Stephane Janin, click here.

Even though some Cambodians born in the US speak broken Khmer, the language of their parents, some children are keen to learn about their culture, traditions and home civilization.

The Angkor Dance Troup, in Lowell, Mass., helps them do this by teaching a younger generation traditional dances.

Troupe founder Tim Chan Thou told VOA Khmer recently that the students who come to learn dance here take it very seriously. They are committed to their training, learning such dances as the Ream Ka, Ra Bam Krot, Ra Bam Kos Traloak, Ra Bam Ken, Ra Bam Krap and others.

The dance troupe welcomes not only Cambodians, but students from other backgrounds as well, Tim Chan Thou said.

"The goal of Angkor Dance Troup is to disseminate Cambodian classical and traditional dancing to all Cambodian-Americans, and some other nationalities in Lowell, [dances] that we lost for many years during the war and after the war," he said.

His goal is to preserve the Cambodian art form and its legacy forever, and to raise Cambodian civilization to an international level of fame.

One of the main obstacles, he said, was a lack of time to practice.

"We have difficulty finding suitable times to match together become students are going to their school and some are working," he said. "So that is why it is kind of hard at this point."

Support from the US government and the people of Lowell were helping the troupe meet its goals, he said, adding that dancers from the troupe are often hired by universities and private individuals.

"The money that I received from the hiring, I always share with my team and also keep the rest of the money in the bank in order to buy food, electricity, gas, and buy more dancing cloths from Cambodia," he said. "We have all kinds of classical and traditional dancing cloths here."

The troupe also plays a role in educating young Cambodians and keeping them away from drugs and gangs.

Tim Chan Thou established the troupe in 1986, having survived the Khmer Rouge and living in the Kao Ei Darg refugee camp on the Thai border.

He worked together with other classical dancers to form the troupe, steadily raising its profile among the Cambodian community in the US. The troupe now teaches more than 100 students, men and women.

Peter Veth, assistant director of the troupe and a dance teacher, said he was proud to be able to participate in teaching young Cambodians about the classical art.

"It even makes me more interested in my culture," he said. "It even makes me more powerful as a youth, because you know teaching the kids is making me happy, because I know that I am passing on a tradition from my teacher, who taught me to teach the others."

Huy Serey Hou Sita, who also teaches classical dance, said Cambodian children in the US love the Cambodian arts, learning through their parents and videos.

"Some students have been coming to this since they were six or seven years old," she said. "They really love this art. Even now they have a different job from this artistic dance, but they come to practice and come to perform whenever we call them to help."