Sochietah Ung

Cambodian Costume Maker and Dancer
A man standing in front of statuetes on a shelf.

Photo by Pat Jarrett Virginia Folklife Program


Sochietah Ung is a multitalented costume maker, dancer, teacher, choreographer, playwright, and producer with a passion for sharing his skills across and beyond Cambodian communities nationwide. He is particularly known for his costume and crown making. Ung’s crowns are the favored throughout the United States and internationally, including by Princess Bopha Devi who came to the U.S. to perform in 1985. The Princess was so impressed that she told him, "You have fate. You were born to do this job." Ung also created crowns for a Broadway production of The King and I. He is one of the community’s leading teachers for three of the major Cambodian dance roles (giant, male, and female) as well as a favored folk dance teacher. In addition, Ung is an all-around director of popular Cambodian theater productions.

Ung’s broad knowledge derives from his childhood in Cambodia, where he regularly attended classical theater with his grandmother. He became enamored with it, committing every costume detail and dance movement to memory. In those early years, he could not have known how invaluable his passion would become in the future.

Ung survived the Cambodian genocide from 1975 to 1979. Pressed into forced labor under deadly conditions established by the Khmer Rouge, Ung was the only one in his family to escape the ordeal alive. He was fortunate to have sponsors who adopted him, eventually bringing him to the Washington, DC area. At that time in the early 1980s, several Cambodian dancers in DC were cobbling together a performance. They heard about Ung and his knowledge of Khmer classical theater and reached out to him. He not only advised them on the appearance of the costumes but began crafting them himself. He also started dancing.

Since that time, Ung has diligently studied Cambodian dance and has become a master dancer and teacher. He learned not only from U.S.-based masters like Phuong Phan, but he also learned from Chea Samy, Sok Samon, Neak Kru Leas, and other masters from Cambodia.

Over the decades, Ung has imparted Cambodian dance and costume making to hundreds of students. He regularly performs at theaters, festivals, and museums throughout the Washington, DC region, including the Kennedy Center, Smithsonian, National Folk Festivals, and more. In 2016, the Virginia Folklife Program recognized him as a master costume maker. Ung regularly displays and demonstrates his work at folk festivals in Richmond and throughout the country.

Masks and head dresses on a shelf.

Mulitple pieces. Photo by Pat Jarrett Virginia Folklife Program.

Jewelwry pieces.

Sochietah Ung working. Photo by Pat Jarrett Virginia Folklife Program