Popular Khmer Dances - The Ramvong & Ramkbach
By: Prak Chan Thul..Picture by: Bobby Viceral. ( November, 2002 Volume 2 No.11 )

Cambodia has many festivals, and many different traditional dances that are traditionally played or performed on these holidays. Robam Ramvong and Ramkbach are two special dances that people throughout the country enjoy performing. These traditional Khmer routines are easy to learn and remember: almost every Cambodian knows how to perform them. Because Cambodia has gone through many years of civil war, there are very few historical documents about the nation's culture available to researchers. So to learn more of the history of the Ramvong and Ramkbach dances, we must turn to the memories of everyday people.
The Ramvong dance has been performed in Cambodia for as long as anyone can remember. Both Khmers and other ethnic groups like Phnong, Krung, Tompuon and Prou people have performed this circular dance style since ancient times. People living in the Northeastern highlands and other mountainous areas would entertain themselves during long, dark evenings by dancing around a fire. The culture of dancing around a fire is age-old, and continues in some areas today. Cambodia, Khmer people would hold spirit rituals, during which a 'Memot,' or witch, would dance in a circle around a small cottage, which was surrounded by a sacred boundary string. Animist ethnic groups like the Phnong, Krung and Tompuon people often sacrificed buffaloes to the forest demons they believe in. They also chose the Ramvong dance as their entertainment during these rituals. "The origins of this dance is the people and people dance around a table these days," said Ngoun Sam Art, director of traditional

dance at the Royal University of Culture and Fine Arts. Many of Cambodia's ethnic minorities still maintain the tradition of Ramvong Srokhanteum, or the new village dance. This dance is traditionally performed when a community is due to change its location. Before the move, the village chief and tribal elders perform rituals to chose a new location that is safe, fertile and with a plentiful water supply. Villagers perform the Ramvong dance during the rituals to make the ceremony more entertaining.
All this evidence suggests that Ramvong and RamKbach have been around a very long time, which explains why the dance styles have become closely tied to the Cambodian national tradition. The Ramvong dance also existed in neighboring countries like Thailand and Laos, and so, over time, new styles and influences would flow in and out Cambodia. This meant styles of Ramvong dancing became more varied, especially among communities close to the border. According to documents from the early twentieth century, the Ramvong dance style developed considerably during the period when the Khmer Issarak (Free Khmer Movement) fought for independence from the French. In some mountainous areas, the fighters left behind songs of independence to accompany Ramvong dances.

How to dance:

In the Ramvong dance, people move continuously round in a circle - it's a simple step that's entertaining and relaxing after a hard day's work in the rice field. Not only Khmer people can dance in the Ramvong style: foreigners can also dance because the movements are very easy to need to listen to beat of the drum, which often will sound like "Pak ping pak," or "Tak ting tak," to work out how fast you need to move. One couple needs to step forward, the woman in the front. If you feel like a change, you can swap partners during the performance. You need to fold your palms, with your fingers at right angles to your wrists, and bring your hands up from behind you in front of your face, straightening and bending your fingers in time to the music as you go. Move your hands in opposition directions - one to the left and one to the right. Move your legs in time to the rhythm too, and in the opposite direction to your partner. Dance around an object like table, keeping in time with the beat of the drum.
The Ram Kbach dance is similar to Ramvong; palms must be folded from below and brought up as high as your eyebrow when unfolded. Both hands and legs must be moved in opposition directions, like in the Ramvong dance. People perform the Ram Kbach dance in a circle too - it's just like Ramkbach, but the movements are slower and more gentle. Besides Ramvong and Ram Kbach, the Lamliev and Saravan dance styles are also popular with Khmer people. At festival time, people might perform all these dance style together. The Saravan dance is thought to originate from Laos, as Saravan is the name of a province in Laos near the Cambodian border. The Lamliev dance style, which is also believed to have been originated from Laos, is quicker in rhythm than other Cambodian styles. Although the Saravan and Lamliev dances are not traditionally Cambodian, Khmer people still love performing them, especially at the Khmer New Year festival in April and at wedding ceremonies. This is probably because many Khmer people believe that all these dance styles help create friendship and happiness among society.