Where to Watch Traditional Dance Shows in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Apsara dancers form a strong part of Khmer culture
Apsara dancers form a strong part of Khmer culture | © Uthai Joomthong / Shutterstock
Photo of Marissa
31 May 2018

The Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh may not have as many spots to watch traditional Cambodian dancing at as Siem Reap, but there are still a handful of top-class options to choose from. Here’s where to watch them, and some of the troupes that are worth keeping an eye on.

Cambodian Living Arts' theatre show

Museum
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Cambodian Living Arts
Cambodian Living Arts host a daily cultural show | © Cambodian Living Arts
As the main organisation tasked with bringing traditional arts back to life and steering it in a new, modern direction, Cambodian Living Arts trains musicians, dancers, singers, and other performers, providing them with the props to make a living from their art. One arm of their efforts is the daily shows at the capital’s National Museum, which runs from 7pm to 8pm. The Traditional Dance Show takes audiences on a journey from Angkor’s palaces to the villages of today through song, music, and theatre.

Sovanna Phum Arts Association

Theater
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Sovanna Phum Arts Association
Sovanna Phum Arts Association, Phnom Penh | © Sovanna Phum Arts Association
Sovanna Phum Arts Association worked tirelessly to keep the arts alive in the capital. It employs more than 120 artists, and puts on a range of shows every Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm. These include shadow puppet theatre, classical Apsara dancing, folklore, mask dances, and traditional music. Visitors can also try their hand at dance, drums, or circus skills at a private workshop.

Sophiline Arts Ensemble

Music Venue
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Sophiline Arts Ensemble
Sophiline Arts Ensemble perform in Kampot | © Sophiline Arts Ensemble

Headed by renowned classical Cambodian dancer Sophiline Cheam Shaprio, this ensemble is an internationally-renowned classical dance and music company that is based at the Khmer Arts Theater in Takhmao, Kandal Province, outside of Phnom Penh. While the award-winning troupe is often overseas showcasing Cheam Shapiro’s groundbreaking choreography, they perform on hometurf several times a year – often at Chaktomuk Conference Hall – so it’s worth keeping an eye on their website and Facebook page.

Prumsodun Ok & NATYARASA

Theatre
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Prumsodun Ok & NATYARASA
Prumsodun Ok & NATYARASA is Cambodia's first gay apsara troupe | © Deric Mendes / Prumsodun Ok & NATYARASA

Prumsodun Ok & NATYARASA is Cambodia’s first gay dance company, re-staging Khmer classical dances with a contemporary streak. The groundbreaking troupe recently took up residency at the newly opened Java Creative Cafe’s theatre in Toul Tom Poung. They can also be seen performing at various other locations across the capital.

Chaktomuk Conference Hall

Theatre
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Chaktomuk Conference Hall
Chaktomuk Conference Hall in Phnom Penh | © Chaktomuk Conference Hall

Designed by revered Cambodian architect and father of the New Khmer Architecture movement of the 1950s and ’60s, Van Molyvann, Chaktomuk Conference Hall stands on the capital’s riverside, overlooking the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers. It hosts a string of performances throughout the year, including several dance shows so keep an eye on its Facebook page for upcoming events.

Selapak

School
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Apsara dancers sport traditional Cambodian attire
Enjoy an apsara show | © Rawpixel / Shutterstock

If you fancy learning first hand the traditional art of apsara – Cambodian ballet – or bokator, the ancient Khmer martial art – then Selapak, which translates from Khmer to the arts, is a good place to start. It runs traditional dance and martial art initiation classes, demonstrations and lessons, all led by experts in their field. Private classes can be arranged on request. Performances can also be viewed.