Sonnara Prak
Deputy Director, General Department of Heritage, Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts

Inventory-making efforts of intangible cultural heritage in Cambodia are aimed at providing the reader with a representation of the diversity of Cambodian culture and arts which include, but are not limited to performing arts, music, handicrafts, and languages. It does not aim to give an in-depth study on each of these forms but rather provide a complete overview of all the known forms of intangible cultural heritage with practical information regarding each element.

Cambodian classical dance is a unique artform of Cambodian intangible cultural heritage. In Cambodian tradition, the dancer performs a succession of choreographed postures that smoothly flow from one to the next without any abrupt movements. The dance is a passionate art form in which controlled movement is used to communicate drama and intensity. Each of the slow, carefully composed gestures is precisely marked by orchestral accompaniment.

Taking inventory of this element ensures the eternal existence of the dance. It is imperative to document the gestures, songs, music, stories, costumes, stage decoration, and other ways of performing Khmer classical dance. Inventory-making efforts will contribute to safeguarding this element and assist in collecting basic data for the preservation and development of the dance for future generations.

The Royal Ballet of Cambodia, also known as Khmer Classical Dance, was declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO on 7 November 2003.

In 2005, the Action Plan for the Safeguarding of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia project was established. The objectives and methods for implementation are as follows:


  • Research and collect existing documents and knowledge regarding Khmer Classical Dance;
  • Revitalize ‘lost’ choreographies and surviving knowledge;
  • Aid elder masters and practitioners of Khmer Classical Dance for their efforts to ensure the transmission of their knowledge to younger generations;
  • Strengthen the research and training capacities of the Faculty of the Choreographic Arts and the Department of Performing Arts;
  • Raise public awareness, particularly among younger generations, regarding the significant value and traditions of the Khmer Classical Dance to enhance recognition and involvement.


For implementing the project, a task team was established and divided into four components. They are as follows:

Component A

  • Train for research methodology and project management
  • Research and inventory of the Khmer Classical Dance

 Component B

  • Training for current dancers to become instructors
  • Training for provincial and private troupes
  • Revitalizing the ‘lost’ choreographies and surviving knowledge

Component C

  • Produce one set of musical instruments

Component D

  • Organize an annual Khmer Classical Dance Performance

In close collaboration with artists and representatives of the provincial departments of culture and fine arts, research and collection of surviving documents were conducted along with the documentation of knowledge from principal masters of the traditional Khmer Classical Dance throughout Cambodia, particularly:

  • Performing Arts (traditional dances, stories, choreographies, etc.)
  • Traditional Oral Literature (traditional oral folktales)
  • Traditional Costumes
  • Traditional Practices

A compilation of inventory information of the masters and practitioners of the Khmer Classical Dance is necessary to produce a document that will include:

  • Brief history and presentation
  • Name of each form of dance
  • Revival history
  • Vital stories in the repertory
  • Major masters and practitioners

The working group of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts defined and achieved the following work:

  • Selecting surviving documents
  • Identifying principle masters
  • Interviewing principle masters
  • Recording music, songs, gestures, and art styles

Safeguarding intangible cultural heritage in Cambodia, including both royal and the popular traditions as well as festivals of the different regions and ethnic groups, is a primary concern of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts who provides support through teaching and conducting activity programs to maintain these traditions and encourage research, data collecting, and documentation.

In 2004, the UNESCO Phnom Penh Office was one of the first to publish an inventory of Cambodia’s intangible cultural heritage. At the same time, projects were started in relation to the development of a Living Human Treasures system in Cambodia and the revival of the Khmer Classical Dance tradition. A sub-decree is now proposed by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts in close collaboration with UNESCO to officially institutionalize the system and select Living Human Treasures in Cambodia.