Gnuon Virak, a Cambodian dragon and lion dancer, gathers his group in a circle before letting out a team shout and getting to work rehearsing for their sole Lunar New Year performance of the pandemic-stricken year.
The news: Gnuon, 28, has been dancing since he was a toddler and grew up near a Chinese-style temple in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital.
- He sought a master to teach him to dance seven years ago, and he joined the Bodhi Tree Troupe.
- He eventually rose to the position of team leader.
- The transportation company employee used to supplement his regular monthly salary of about $300 by doing lion and dragon dances at local events, earning about $20.
- During the pandemic, this has all but dried up, with the number of performances dropping to around one per month instead of five.
What’s going on: According to the Cambodian Chinese Association, there are roughly eight troupes in Phnom Penh, but Gnuon is concerned that this number may decrease.
The backstory: Sino-Khmer people have long been a part of Cambodian culture. According to historical records, the first Chinese arrived in the area in the 13th century.
- The neighbourhood was devastated during the Khmer Rouge era in the 1970s, when the authorities retaliated against well-educated urban merchants.
- However, as China rapidly ramps up investment in Cambodia’s economy, ancestral links to China have brought riches to Sino-Khmers in recent years.
What Gnuon says: Gnuon intends to create some new forms to bring lion and dragon dancing to the forefront, such as increasing the number of dancers on elevated poles or using larger poles.
- “I want the younger generation to hold on to this tradition and make it even more well-known in the future,” he said.
- “We’ll keep all our current techniques and also create some new styles in order to make the dancing more well-known, or to be able to compete with other troupes,” he said.