Dancers from the Cambodian Cultural Dance Troupe with instructors Savary Dean (center) and Ryan Boun (right). Photo: Courtesy of CARA.

Cambodian American Resource Agency

Khmer arts and culture

About the Organization

April 2019 Cambodian New Year Performance at Tully Community Library. Photo: Courtesy of CARA.

The Cambodian American Resource Agency (CARA) was founded in 1998 by a group of Cambodian-American professionals and community members who had a deep interest in the uniting the local Khmer community.  The mission of CARA is to help initiate and support community-based events involving the Khmer community in order to increase recognition and raise awareness of the Khmer culture.  Among other programs, CARA supports the Cambodian Cultural Dance Troupe and the Cambodian Language School.

The Cambodian Cultural Dance Troupe of San Jose (CCDTSJ) has operated as a dance school for the wider Bay Area community for more than 30 years. Students from throughout the Bay Area have participated in the program because of the quality of instruction in classical and folk dances provided by Savary Dean and Charya Burt (a frequent mentor in ACTA’s apprenticeship program). Not only has the CCDTSJ instructed generations of students in dance, but it also functions as a “secondary place” for the Cambodian-American diaspora: a place to explore being Cambodian-American outside of immediate family and connect with other Cambodian-American peers.

The CCDTSJ and CARA during Mixed Melodies.

Living Cultures Grant Program


Khmer New Year 2024 Festival

CARA will produce an evening-length arts showcase in Spring 2024 for the Khmer New Year. The celebration will include a piece of traditional Cambodian musical theater (Yiké), a rare piece of Cambodian classical music presented by the Ho Chan Ensemble, and a showcase of dancers from different cultural organizations throughout the Bay Area, including the CCDTSJ.


Bay Area Cambodian Cultural Festival

Robam Tangyu, or The Umbrella Dance at the annual Cambodian Community Picnic in 2022. Photo: Courtesy of CARA.

In 2022, the CCDTSJ organized a family friendly Bay Area Cambodian Cultural Festival, planned for early May of 2023, in collaboration with Cambodian communities throughout the Bay Area and the Central Valley. Along with performances by the CCDTSJ and the Ho Chan Ensemble, the event included Cambodian foods, as well as activities for audience and attendee participation.


The Cambodian Cultural Dance Troupe is reprising Sovan Macha, a classic Cambodian dance. Sovan Macha tells a story of mischievous monkeys building a wall in Cambodia, with the beautiful mermaids tearing it down. After exquisite dances, Hanuman the monkey king and Sovan Macha the mermaid queen fall in love, and the monkeys and the mermaids become friends. Performing artists from other communities will be invited to collaborate in a contemporary production of Sovan Macha.


ACTA funds supported the Cambodian Cultural Dance Troupe’s production of The Judge Rabbit.  Seeing the stage for the first time in the United States, this interpretation of an ancient Cambodian folk tale will be led by artistic director Savary Dean and guest master artist Charya Burt, who will develop the choreography, music, and song.

Ryan Boun leading Chha Banchoss, a foundation for all Cambodian traditional dance. Photo: Courtesy of the Cambodian American Resource Agency.

CARA received funding from ACTA’s Living Cultures Grant Program to support Hidden Treasures, a capstone event for five high school seniors who have trained for years as Cambodian classical dancers through CARA’s free weekly dance lessons.  The performance was produced by dancers themselves, with the support of CARA’s staff, and will be presented at a local high school.


CARA received funding to underwrite costs to provide free weekly dance lessons through the Cambodian Cultural Dance Troupe.  Students performed at the community’s New Year Festibal, learn the folk dance, Fish Tales, and a core of male dancers will continue to perfect their monkey dance repertoire.


CARA received a grant to support advanced students’ travel to Long Beach to study, dance, and live with musicians of the Ho Chan Ensemble.  The ensemble also traveled to San Jose in order to perform for the San Jose-based community and will feature local dancers in the concert slated for fall of 2012.


The youngest students of the Cambodian Cultural Dance Troupe demonstrate exercises that they do each class for flexibility and grace.

Ryan Boun performs the basic movements of the ogre masked dance. He has studied dance for six years and mentors the younger students each week.

Chheng Sim Bun is Chinese-Cambodian. She writes in the program, " All the hard work and pain is worth it in the end because when I finally perform the dance for others to see, I feel like I am the heavenly being that I am portraying. Khmer dance is a part of me."

The teaching of the monkey character is a favorite among the boys in the dance academy.   Monkeys figure into the story of the Khmer Ramayana, the great epic tale of Asia.

The performers take a bow.

Senior dancers honor their teachers and mentors. From l to r: Raline Von-Buelow (back to camera) assists artistic director, Savary Dean in the middle. Mrs. Dean studied at the Fine Arts Academy in Cambodia and has taught youth in San Jose for 25 years without pay as a tribute to her perished artist-colleagues. To her left, Mrs. Leslie Kim has been a volunteer whose contributions to the community continue long after her own daughter has left the dance academy for college.

Charya Burt who lives in Sonoma County is a master dance artist who has assisted the San Jose dancers over the years as a lead mentor. She has watched the students progress in their studies. For this concert production, she sang with the live music and assisted with the preparations of costuming and make-up. She appears here with her mother back stage.

Master musician Ho Chan has assembled the only pin-peat orchestra in California.   The opportunity for the students to perform with live music has deepened their appreciation for the complexity of the dances.

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Ryan Boun |

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