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Cambodian dance
Samnang Hor (left) teaching the monkey dance. Photo by James Higgins, Cambodian dance, 2007; Lowell, Massachusetts;
Samnang Hor (left) teaching the monkey dance. Photo by James Higgins, Cambodian dance, 2007

Lowell, Massachusetts
A monkey dancer in costume; Apprenticeship - Cambodian dance; 2007: Lowell, Massachusetts
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Samnang Hor
Lowell, MA
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Sopaul Hem
Lowell, MA
The ancient art of Cambodian dance was nearly lost when the Khmer Rouge ruled the country in the 1970s. Dancers who survived have striven to preserve the endangered technique and repertoire, both in Cambodia and in the communities where they resettled. Samnang Hor is a second generation Cambodian American who at the age of nine began studying dance with Angkor Dance Troupe of Lowell, Massachusetts. He was taught by master dance instructor Soy Soeur, who had been trained at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Cambodia. Soeur specialized in the monkey dance, or Swva Pol,/em>, as it is known in Khmer. The dance is Cambodia's version of the epic Indian tale, the Ramayana.

Growing up in Lowell during the 1980s and 1990s, it is not surprising that Samnang was exposed to hip hop and break dancing. It was Samnang’s teacher who first saw the connection between these popular dance forms and Cambodian dance’s way of capturing the mannerisms of monkeys, thus the idea to merge the two dances was born. The Monkey Dance has become one of the most important and popular dances in the repertoire of the Angkor Dance Troupe. As choreographed and performed by Angkor, Swva Pol is a traditional Khmer dance infused with modern American hip hop moves and sensibility. The dance speaks to the bi-cultural heritage of Cambodian youth growing up here in America.

Now in his mid-twenties, Hor continues to dance with Angkor and is an inspiring teacher. In 2009, Samnang Hor and high school junior Sopaul Hem were awarded a Mass Cultural Council Traditional Arts Apprenticeship to ensure that the next generation masters Monkey Dance with all its subtleties.
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