Never before have I been so excited for new students to arrive. I had a great time choreographing on Epic Encounters, and can’t wait for this to continue, however there was there was the excitement build up to the new Inclusive Arts Course starting oh so very soon.
Monday and Tuesday were spent as staff training in Kep, one of Cambodia’s popular beach destinations (and I could see why!) which is about 30 minutes drive from where I am staying.
This was a great chance to meet all of the team, have a drink with them, look at what Epic Arts means to us all and play some team building/ice-breaker games.
The food was amazing, as was the party! Here I learnt some traditional Cambodian dances (yes, they do these at discos!) and also learnt that us Westerners thinking we can put on something other than Cambodian 90’s jungle music will go down as well as sinking ship. The dance floor emptied. Not even James Brown could bring us back. However the one dollar beers eased this pain and we drank our way through the jungle, both from where we were situated in the Cambodian jungle and 90s auditory style (lesson learnt however; never takeover from a Khmer’s DJ position).
We welcomed the 16 new students the day after our return to Kampot. They all seemed lovely, and were extremely enthusiastic learners during my first dance class!! It is really quite possible that these students, although from ages 16 up, will have never been in formal education before. Schools in Cambodia are theoretically free of cost, however test passes and teacher bribes cost money, as does the uniform and stationary. Therefore, many Cambodian families either cannot afford schooling, or decide against it in a bid to make money to live from. Many of the children learn how to live off the land with farming, fishing, bamboo weaving, sewing as well as many other practical trades. Many of which I’d love to try my hand at, given I get enough time off from dancing!
I have spent time planning out my year with them, ensuring I try to get what I want to covered. Theres so much to cover with dance, as well as practicing the techniques (contemporary).
As well as these lovely new students I have two ‘teams’ that I am here to mentor. Firstly, Epic Encounters, the completely amazing professional dance company that I will be choreographing on, going over choreography skills, workshop skills and teaching technique class to, and the equally awesome Arts Team, who are a community based dance company. The Arts Team do outreach dance workshops and performances in local schools weekly (I will help them prepare for these sessions) as well later on in the year when we will choreograph a piece to tour Cambodia with (so bloody exciting).
All staff in these teams are amazing, and I am so happy that there is funding around to support these kinds of jobs in Cambodia. The education and outreach work here really has such an impact, especially as the arts are never concentrated on in what schooling systems there currently are. I say currently as before the Khmer Rouge there was great art, especially in Phnom Penh, and especially in cinema. However many of the records of this, as well as their creators were lost during this time. So for Epic Arts its not only about creating, but also about rebuilding the qualities and the professionalism in the arts that there used to be.
Epic Encounters had one of their many workshops (these help them to be self-sufficient) with visitors from Singapore International School UWCSEA.
I got up and prepared for the day; checking I had everything I needed and anything I may possibly need if something went wrong, thus being my first visitors workshop I was part of. Only to find I wasn’t part of the workshop; Epic Encounters had it covered! I had discussed with them previously about what new ideas we could bring the workshop, and today, all I had to do was the small matter of money exchanging and oversea the event and check everything was going to plan. After 6 years of being self employed I can really see how having a fully efficient team behind you can really make things work. I will need to get used to taking a step back, and what feels like a definite step up. It was amazing to be able to take notes for aspects that could be improved on during the actual workshop. The team did a great job, but there’s always room for improvement! And that’s why I am here; to share my skills to build them up, and to hopefully pass on enough knowledge, that I (or any other dance tutor from Western society) is not needed. We’re doing ourselves out of a job. That’s the plan anyway, and really what any mentors plan should be, where they are. There is so much that I can learn from Epic Encounters too so I am looking forward to the sharing of dance knowledge! I have two sessions a week planned with them to go over workshop development and ideas. Hopefully we can work together to create something even better than already is.
I have also had time to check out some of the local NGO’s, especially Banteay Srey, a woman’s vocational training centre and shelter.
Here, the local women are trained in spa treatments, cooking and much more. There are also Yoga classes (hooray you hear me chant!) that are lead by visiting yoga instructors, so always
plenty of range and what a gorgeous setting. Check out Banteay Srey’s Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Banteay-Srey-Project/135795789817339?sk=timeline and website http://banteaysreyproject.org/a-safe-place/
They are a truly awesome organisation, and what a beautiful location. I even enjoyed a wee river swim here yesterday, which was very delightful until the moment when I am sure I saw a fin!! A black one, must’ve been a very big fish. Although can’t seem to find much information on Kampot River fish online. Anyway I made a swift get out. Speaking to Khmer team about this however they believe it may have been the river ghost of Kampot. Either way I want to keep swimming in this gorgeous location and not let the fin appearance put me off!
In other news I am trying very hard to learn some basic (very basic) Khmer. It is taking me a while, and I believe I am truly terrible at it, however I have a great teacher in the form of one of the dancers who teaches the new english speaking team every weekend in Epic Arts Cafe. The delicious mango smoothies ease the pain of difficult learning! Sakun really is a great teacher, but the pronunciation and many word similarities mean so far I think I can sufficiently say nothing more than ‘how are you’ and ‘thank-you’.
And on that note THANK – YOU for reading! It means so much to me that you are taking the time to read my rambles (this one especially feels like a rather long ramble – apologies – I promise the next one to be shorter!!).
From Kampot, with love xx
Such a good read, Kathryn. Don’t apologise for your reflections. It is so good to hear what you are doing and what you think about it. Your job is very special. Well done!
Aw thanks 🙂 Yes it is good to reflect!