LONG BEACH, Calif. - In the Khmer dance style, every gesture has a meaning and there’s almost 5,000 of them.
It may look simple, but it’s actually one of the most complicated styles to learn. In fact, some take as long as 10 years to learn the basic dance — which takes 45 minutes to run through.
And while it is difficult to master, there is one studio in Long Beach intent on passing the art form down to the next generation.
“I want to say that Cambodian classical dance is in my blood and that’s why I enjoy it so much,” said 16-year old, Chakra Sokhomsan, a dancer at Khmer Arts Academy. “This art form allows us to bridge gaps between this thousand-year-old art form and our generation today.”
The studio has been a fixture in the Cambodia Town community for almost 20 years. Long Beach has one on the oldest and largest Cambodian communities in California. The Cambodian genocide in the 1970s wiped out almost 90 percent of the country’s artists and those who fled to Southern California saw the studio as a means to preserve their culture.
Mea Lath, who is now the lead instructor at the Academy says the studio’s purpose is two-fold.
“It provides a safe space for our youth to discover who they are as Cambodian-Americans,” she explained, “and a healing space for survivors of the genocide.”
Like Lath, Chakra, is hoping to pass along the skills he has learned to younger dancers that pass through the studio.
“I keep this place going because I want other Cambodian-American youth to experience the same things I did,” Lath said.
“Being accepted into this art form, it kinda lifts me up and inspires my spirit,” echoed Chakra.