The passion of learning new things led Belle to fall into the world of contemporary dance and become a founder of the SilverBelle dance troupe. Her love for art and culture led her to choose Khmer classical dance as the foundation of her work, contributing to a new creation that promotes Khmer cultural arts and has a positive impact on younger generations.
Chumvan Sodhachivy (Belle) is a dancer, choreographer and choreography teacher. Having a mother who loves art, this talented woman has been attending Fine Arts High School since she was 8 years old. Her passion began with the first dance performance, a wonderful and very proud performance.
It was a classical dance shown to foreigner audiences who visited the school. After the performance, the applause and smiles made her feel proud of herself for representing Khmer culture.
“It’s cool and wonderful to make nearly hundreds of people smile and enjoy our culture,” she said, “Sometimes we may not understand ourselves, but art makes us understand our self-value.”
To Belle, this is one of the reasons she has chosen classical dance as the foundation of her work. She believes that “If you really love something you have to preserve it.” A sentiment she has voiced to the younger generation.
Although classical has been at the core of her art, curiosity to learn new things led Belle to meet an Indian teacher who created an exchange of culture. The teacher taught Indian dance to Belle, as well as yoga. After rehearsing for three weeks, the teacher introduced a combination of the three dances, which included Khmer dance, Indian dance, and yoga with a new melody.
At that time, Belle thought it was impossible, but the words said by the Indian teacher, “Why not?” are a few that Belle will never forget. The understanding that there was nothing wrong with combining the different types of dance and that the feeling of trying something new is fun and unique created a sense that anything is possible.
After the dance show ended, there was a lot of praise and support. Belle started to wonder, “If they can combine these dances, why can’t I?” This question created a sort of freedom opening the opportunity to enter contemporary dance.
Her curiosity and love propelled her into the field of contemporary dance. She began participating in art organisations that train young people who want to try new things with short scholarships to study and attend workshops. She has taken her studies to many countries in Asia, America, and Europe.
From studying, researching and understanding of contemporary dance, Belle has used classical dance as her foundation and created an art that stands out as a new invention. While many appreciate her work, some critics believe that contemporary dance is a copy of a foreign dance from other countries and is inauthentic to Khmer traditional forms.
“Contemporary dance represents the Khmer identity, because this is the work and idea of the Khmer people to show the feelings the way we are,” she commented referring to her work.
Belle hopes that in the future artists and audiences will be able to understand the values of contemporary dance that benefit the Cambodian nation and culture. It helps the individual to think differently and in a positive way that leads to innovation of new ways of thinking.
Belle uses contemporary dance to teach her students about life and problem solving. Helping people to think of solutions helps them to live a more peaceful life and be less aggressive, more emotional and more confident in expressing themselves.
She believes that “contemporary dance has become a form of dance for Cambodians, a form that has rules, and rules that are completely free for everyone. It is a form of knowledge that can bridge to the outside world.”
While considering how she has combined the old with the new, she believes we need to “Learn to accept the truth and find our own solutions. If we fight for what we love, we can overcome any challenge.”
This article is a part of the Open Room Discussion under the theme of Khmer Identity: bridging the gap between Cambodia’s proud historic culture and its contemporary and progressive future which is a partnership between Focus-Ready for Tomorrow and KampumEra.