Cambodian-American Heritage (Fort Washington, MD)

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Cambodian-American Heritage’s dance students perform as part of a Cambodian New Year celebration. Photo by Tom Pich

After the Cambodian holocaust in the 1970s, when many traditional dancers and musicians were killed, the survival of an art form was in jeopardy. As the leading Cambodian arts education and performance organization in the United States, Cambodian-American Heritage (CAH) has undertaken the responsibility of preserving this Asian artistic tradition, training the next generation of Cambodian-Americans in Cambodian classical and folk dances and traditional music, and also introducing this traditional art form to a mainstream American audience.

In FY 2006, CAH received an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $10,000 in support of instruction in Cambodian dance and music, culminating in a performance in celebration of the Cambodian New Year. From November 2006 through April 2007, Cambodian-American students ages three through adult participated in dance and music classes, organized and taught by CAH artistic director and NEA National Heritage Fellow Sam-Oeun Tes, music director and NEA National Heritage Fellow Chum Ngek, and dance director Devi Yim.

The 37 dance students and five music students performed on April 29, 2007, at Gunston Middle School in Arlington, Virginia. The dancers and musicians presented nine pieces, showcasing Cambodian classical dance, such as Robaim Phoung Neary, used to open a special event, and Cambodian folk dances, such as the Robaim Kangok Pailin, or Pailin Peacock Folk Dance. In addition to these traditional dances, the concert also featured Robaim Prosithi Por, a classical dance choreographed by CAH’s teachers. The performance was recorded for broadcast on DC public access television stations.

By creating new dances and preserving traditional ones, CAH provides an invaluable service to the Cambodian-American community and is integral to the survival and resurgence of this tradition for the future.