The Cambodian New Year was celebrated in style as Cambodians in Philadelphia got a chance to take part in a celebration sponsored by the Temple University Cambodian Association (TUCA) last Friday.
The event was organized and produced by the members of TUCA.
Their hard work was clearly evident as performances progressed without any glitches.
The main events everyone looked forward to were two dance performances by members of TUCA.
John Huynh, a sophomore at Drexel University, said, “I expected to see cultural and traditional stuff.” He also said that Drexel’s Cambodian
Association already had their New Year celebration prior to this one.
Thanh Thach, a freshman at Upper Darby High School “came for the fun of bringing in the Cambodian New Year.”
TUCA president Channy Vonn decided that unlike last year’s fashion show, they would prepare two dances this year.
“We wanted,” she said with pride, “to make it very exciting for people to see our culture, our clothing, our costumes, everything!”
The first dance, Robahm Thang-Yu (umbrella dance), was a dance containing subtle flirtations between men and women. Ladies carried beautiful paper umbrellas and wore flowing pastel-colored outfits consisting of kbunn (pants) and sbai (blouses). The men wore kbunn too, though theirs were bright gold.
The second dance, Robahm Nasat (basket dance) was another flirtatious dance. This performance consisted of men fishing with baskets resembling lobster traps and women cleaning rice with another basket. The women and men stole each other’s baskets — another way of flirting with each other. This was meant to be more of a modern dance, as evidenced by the outfits worn. The women wore sarongs (skirts) with modern blouses, while the men wore normal pants and t-shirts.
Both dances, performed by members of TUCA, were choreographed by Vonn and Moy Sab, who serves as vice president. Performances were well done, with graceful and lithe movements, practiced by many Cambodians before.
The costumes were designed and stitched entirely by Sab, a sophomore Biology major. She said, “It was time-consuming doing everything, between designing, practicing the dances and schoolwork. However, I’m very happy the way the costumes turned out.”
In between the two main performances, the secretary of the Palelai Buddhist
Temple, Chhean Vonn (who is Channy Vonn’s father), took the stage and said in the Cambodian language he was pleased with the youths’ effort in keeping their culture.
“We cannot lose our culture, because the younger people keep bringing it back up,” he said. Vonn also expressed how proud he was of his daughter organizing the event.
Many people were proud and jubilant about the dances.
“I’m very proud because all of our hard work paid off,” said freshman performer Soknem Poav Prum. “We had been practicing for so long.”
Monika Prak, another performer said, “My mom wanted me to be a part of
The Cambodian culture, so I wanted to show her, by participating, that I am part of the culture. I see the Cambodian culture as very respectful towards others.”
Prak explained how Cambodian people in America change themselves to fit into both the American and Cambodian culture. “With organizations like this, my Cambodian culture and traditions become apparent, but when I’m with my American friends, I tend to be more Americanized.”
The performers then changed into bright clothing, usually worn at weddings. Next, they formed a line and displayed the five dance styles of Rorm Voung, a traditional Cambodian dance, performed as variations with hand movements while carrying the same step with their feet.
Channy Vonn was pleased by the outcome.
“People usually do other dances, which are quite common,” she said. “We wanted to be different and do something else.”
The Siveelai Band performed many Cambodian songs. The crooning of the lead singer and the gentle beats of the drums spurred many people to enter the dance floor and participate in more Cambodian-style dancing. At one point, the dance floor was packed with people forming lines, gently twirling their arms and fingers, enjoying the music.
TUCA is a new organization; this is their tenth annual celebration on campus. Channy Vonn, who contributed about $1000 to help make the Cambodian festival a reality, said TUCA’s goal is to bring Cambodian people together.
“TUCA allows people to share their cultural experiences and keep their tradition alive,” she said. “Some people become so Americanized that they don’t have any knowledge of what their culture is about.”