Chumvan ‘Belle’ Sodhachivy is a classical and contemporary dancer who will perform in New York and Boston this month as part of Bangsokol, a stage production combining music and film. Before jetting off, the choreographer down with Southeast Asia Globe at Phnom Penh’s National Museum to share her advice for young dancers
How did you first get into dance?
I started dancing at a young age, but I did not like it. It was actually my mother who pushed me to keep going with it. I was more interested in sport but my mum told me: ‘You are a good Cambodian girl. You should dance.’ Of course I am a good Cambodian girl, so I did what my mother said.
It was not easy becoming a dancer and even harder to become a good dancer, but my mother kept me motivated. She told me to not only study classical dance but in my spare time to practise and learn other types such as pop, hip-hop and modern. This made my body more flexible to different styles.
You say your mother pushed you, so when did you fall in love with dance yourself?
That’s a very good question. I think I was 12 and some tourists came to visit my school. Our teacher had us perform and I was in front of the group. Almost 100 people stood up and they clapped and looked so happy. I felt so proud of myself.
What challenges do you face as a professional dancer?
People say things to me and my mother: that a dancer cannot be a good Cambodian girl. They think that dancers are fools; that we can only smile to the audience and have nothing inside. This is really painful.
What advice would you give to aspiring young dancers?
You need to fall in love with it. It is now so hard. When I first went to dance school there were 500-600 students each year, but now [there is less interest so] only around 100-150 [places for students]. Love of dance can get you there, but you also need the support of parents. Parents need to explain how important classical dance is to our history and heritage. We are Cambodian and we have an identity. We need to hold on to that. You also need luck. I know that I was very lucky getting to where I am.
What is the reality of life as a dancer?
It is really difficult. You need to choose your lifestyle and remember what is important to you. Some tell me that I am a star, but I am not a star. I am still living on Earth. I see myself as a dancer, an artist. I do not do it to live the lifestyle of a star.
This article was published in the December edition of Southeast Asia Globe magazine. For full access, subscribe here.