The graceful hand gesture and expressive faces of these amateurs are all part of the ancient Cambodian dance, called Lakhon Khol.
This performance is part of the annual Cambodian culture festival that happens annually in Silver Spring, Maryland, near Washington DC.
The event brought artists and vendors from all across America to celebrate Cambodia’s rich heritage.
This is the first time that I’ve seen the Lakhon Khol in America.
They are doing a great job of preserving my culture civilization and they are doing a good job and that makes me very happy.
The organizer of Cambodian Community Day says it’s an honor to help keep the ancient traditions alive.
Lakhon Khol is an art that seems to have almost disappeared.
UNESCO recently listed Lakhon Khol as a cultural heritage that needs immediate protection, so it’s really an honor for us to help bring it back to life.
This is our biggest production in 19 years.
This early Angkoring art form was almost completely wiped out by the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s.
It bent the study of the dance and killed at least 1.7 million people, including dancers, artists and writers.
The dancers are exclusively male.
They wear masks and perform a Cambodian version of the classic Indian folk tale of Ramayana,
the story of a prince who enlists the help of an armies of monkeys to rescue his wife from a demon.
The performers can speak in Lakhon Khol, so there is a recorded or live narration.
That makes the dance and body language crucial to telling the story, depicting emotions like anger and love.
The dance master Societah Ung is originally from Battambang Cambodia.
He told VOA one of the biggest challengers was recruiting enough male dancers then training over 30 performers,
most of whom were not professional dancers.
He also had trouble finding traditional costumes and jewelry from Cambodia.
It’s hard to find professional dancers, even when I do some of them aren’t interested in doing Lakhon Khol.
I only want people who are interested, whether or not they can dance.
I am willing to take the time to simplify some of the dance move and teach them.
The performance, Ung said, was a success.
I’m so happy.
All of my student did a great job today.
I’m also grateful that I have five students from other states, three from Lowell, Massachusetts, one from Atlanta, Georgia and one from Seattle, Washington.
And the crowd was as pleased as the dance master.
I’m very proud that Cambodians here are able to organize and perform Lakhon Khol.
I’m Chetra Chap for VOA news, Silver Spring.