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When visiting Cambodia, especially while visiting the immense and intriguing religious complex of Angkor Wat, Cambodia you will inevitably be struck by the beautiful dancing girls depicted on the temple walls and reliefs.
An Apsara (also spelled as Apsarasa) is a female spirit of the clouds and waters in Hindu and Buddhist mythology. In Indian religions, Apsaras are beautiful, supernatural female beings. They are youthful and elegant, and superb in the art of dancing. They are often wives of the Gandharvas. They dance to the music made by the Gandharvas to entertain and sometimes seduce both gods and men. As ethereal beings who inhabit the skies, and are often depicted taking flight, or at service of a god, they may be compared to angels.
In the temple complexes around Siem Reap, these goddesses are particularly prominent at Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon and Ta Prohm appearing in many different reliefs, but always dancing. In the Angkor Wat temple alone there are around 1,800 dancing goddess carvings.
Studies of the dancing girls have shown there are many varied depictions with different hair, jewellery, clothing, stance, floral decorations and headdresses. Therefore it has been concluded that they were modelled on real Apsaras in the Khmer court of the 12th century.
Cambodian Dance is an important form of art and culture to mark the national identity and the soul of the nation. Khmer classical dances, also known as the Robam Preah Reach Trop (Royal Dance), are a form of the Cambodia dance originally performed only for the king, but now also for dignitaries and the public during official ceremonies and other festivals. There are many important classical dances that play a pivotal role in Khmer literature. Amongst these, Apsara Dance is the most important for Khmer culture and national heritage, which has been inherited from Khmer ancestors. Even though male and female dancers have been changed from one generation to another, the techniques of the dancing remain the same.

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The Apsara Dance is a Classical dance inspired by the Apsara carvings and sculptures of Angkor and developed in the late 1940s by Queen Sisowath Kossamak. Her granddaughter and protégé, Princess Bopha Devi, was the first star of the Apsara Dance.
The central character of the dance, the Apsara Mera, leads her coterie of Apsaras through a flower garden where they partake of its beauty. The movements of the dance are distinctly Classical yet, as the dance was developed for theatrical presentation, it is shorter and a bit more relaxed and flowing. The dance portrays excellent examples of the movements, manner and spirit of Khmer Classical dance. This shorter version makes it particularly accessible to a modern audience unaccustomed to the style and stories of Khmer dance-drama.
Classical dance, including the famous ‘Apsara dance,’ has a grounded, subtle, restrained, yet feather-light, ethereal appearance. Distinct in its ornate costuming, taut posture, arched back and feet, flexed fingers, codified facial expressions, slow, close, deliberate but flowing movements, it is uniquely Khmer. The performance present themes and stories inspired primarily by the Reamker (the Cambodian version of the Indian classic, the Ramayana) and the glories of the Angkorian Age.
Cambodian scholars, such as Pech Tum Kravel, and French archaeologist George Grosiler mentioned that Khmer classical dance as proof that shows the cultural solidarity and unity within the Angkorian period. In 2003, UNESCO named the Apsara dance a “Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”.
“It’s as if the sculptures at Angkor come to life before your very eyes”.
Heritage Line invites our guests, on the Jahan or Jayavarman, to an exclusive evening performance, aboard ship, of the Apsara Dance whilst moored in Phnom Penh.
Don’t miss this unique performance as well as our culturally immersive experiences on the Mekong. Our ships sail a 7-night itinerary between Siem Reap, Cambodia and My Tho, Vietnam. For more information on this cruise, kindly visit: www.heritage-line.com or www.facebook.com/HeritageLine.