It was the 3rd of August and the day before our first session of morning activities for the children. I found myself, alongside two other volunteers and three Cambodian High School interns, trying to brainstorm a dance lesson for an unknown number of children of an uncertain age range. As the activities camp was entirely optional children from the surrounding areas, they could turn up if they so wished. This meant the numbers of children per day were never certain. We decided to do a fusion of Khmer and Western dancing, it took us far longer to learn the Khmer moves than it did to teach the interns English favorites such as the Macarena. The next morning we nervously performed this eclectic mix to a group of about thirty rather bemused children, who found our attempts at Khmer dancing utterly hilarious. Their undisguised disdain was a blow to my ego, I rather fancied myself as a dancer, but it worked well as they then felt little embarrassment at getting involved, I believe their attitude was that they could never be as bad as us! One group of five ‘lads’ was particularly disconcerting as they watched the entire performance leaning casually against a wall, eyebrows raised; little did I know they were to become my most avid followers! To our surprise and delight after their rather unimpressed faces they really enjoyed learning the dance. We had expected the dance to take up the bulk of the lesson, it took them about fifteen minutes to learn a dance which had taken us an hour and a half to choreograph, they were far faster learners than we had been!
Each night we choreographed increasingly complex dances designed to be taught in a forty-five minute session after various warm up games. We drew inspiration from pop music bands and the snippets of their routines that we could remember; juxtaposing ‘Grease lightning’ with ‘S club’ was surprisingly effective! The speed at which the children learnt the dances never ceased to amaze me, they were far more adept than many of the volunteers who struggled even with the Macarena!
We thought the youngest group, composed of children between two and five, would probably struggle to learn a choreographed routine, so instead we played a variety of games, including musical bumps, and sang countless songs-the ‘Hokey Cokey’ became a favorite with all age groups! Even in this age group there were several children who impressed everybody with their moves!
There was nothing that made me happier than seeing groups of children practicing their dances after class. The ‘lads’ who had caused me such worry at the beginning would argue over which pop dance was the best, perfect each others’ moves and be the first in the dance classroom each day. They turned out to have a surprisingly wide repertoire of dance styles including break-dancing and moon-walking.
We tried to incorporate some drama into our sessions, and managed to weave dance together with the theme of ‘the environment’. We composed an interpretative dance about deforestation which included break-dancing trees (having learnt some moves from the ‘lads’), balletic hungry animals and the evil ‘bad man’ who cart-wheeled onstage and proceeded to cut down all the trees.
We also taught the children a few Scottish dances, although the reluctance of boys and girls to pair up made this rather tricky. I loved watching the childrens’ faces of intense concentration as they mastered each new dance. The sight of thirty Cambodian children dancing a medley of pop songs was a strikingly bizarre, and yet extraordinarily rewarding sight! I like to think the children enjoyed it, I most certainly did!