‘It transcends language’: Young Khmer dancers keep ancient art alive

Three teenagers huddle together for a quick brainstorming session in the warehouse dance studio of the Khmer Arts Academy in the heart of Cambodia Town.

One girl is plucking at a ukulele, another is quickly tapping impromptu prose into her phone and a boy is suggesting what movements he could do with the words. Together, they’re creating a dance piece: one that’s part Cambodian, part American.

“‘The ugly I see in myself is the beauty others see in me,’” Victoria Ung, 16, recites from her notes. She pauses.

“It’s not really Western,” she says.

“It’s something different, though,” says her friend, 15-year-old Soriyah Sam.

Chakra Sokhomsan, 16, suggests they try it out. Placing the phone on top of an electrical outlet box affixed to the wall, they start recording as Chakra kneels into position. Soriyah starts plucking a slow tune on her ukulele as Victoria recites the poem they created minutes earlier.
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