WASHINGTON DC —
They live thousands of kilometers away from Cambodia, but that doesn’t keep some Cambodian people from being in touch with their culture. Every Sunday parents drive their children, sometimes for over an hour, to learn classical dance and traditional Cambodian music.
Touch Soeurn, a former teacher of Cambodian classical music from the University of Fine Arts, has been teaching the younger generation of Cambodians since 1976. “I really admire the parents,” he says. “They drive their kids to practice every Sunday. Without them, the kids wouldn’t be able to be at this level.”
At Maison du Cambodge, or Cambodia House, several former classical dance instructors share their knowledge with the younger generation. Vorn Savay, a former classical dancer at the Royal Palace, says parents and children make a lot of sacrifices. “They face a lot of challenges,” she says. “The kids have to go to school and the parents have to go to work. They only have Sunday to rest. But they give it up to come here and learn Cambodian music and dance. It’s not an easy thing to do.”
Other instructors agree. Vuth Chanmoly, who moved to Paris several years ago, says it’s her duty to pass on her skills and knowledge to the next generation. “Our ancestors tried to preserve Cambodian culture for us. Now it’s our turn to preserve it, teaching the next generation of young people. Each generation has a duty to pass it on to the next.”
Some parents say they missed their chance growing up, due to the wars and upheavals of Cambodia in the 1970s and 1980s. They don’t want their children to miss the opportunity.
Long Kunthy, who grew up during the Cambodian civil war, says she never tires of driving her two children to practice. “I want them to meet the other Cambodian children, so that they can learn the Cambodian language as well,” she says.
Tan Soheta, president of the Cambodian Arts Association in Paris, says she formed the association with one goal in mind: to allow the Cambodian children learn about Khmer culture. “It’s a lot of work,” she says. “Sometimes I am tired, but when I see the level of dedication from the teachers and the parents, I am so thrilled and energized.”