The Apsaras Dance – sometimes written as Apsara Dance – is a classical Khmer performance art inspired by the water and cloud spirit of Hindu and Buddhist mythology. The Apsaras are a common feature of bas-reliefs on the walls of the Angkor temples near Siem Reap, shown in the same tight-fitting traditional dress, ornate headdress and gilded jewellery the modern dancers wear.
While the Apsaras Dance – known locally as “Robam Tep Apsara” – originates from the 6th-7th centuries, the shows you are likely to see in Siem Reap are actually quite a recent invention. The ballet-like performance was created by the Royal Ballet of Cambodia in the mid-20th century, with the graceful moves and postures inspired by those displayed on the walls of Angkor Wat and other ancient buildings in the area. In 2003, the dance was recognised by UNESCO as a ‘Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’.