Charya Cheam Burt

Cambodian Classical Dance

Cambodian classical dancer Charya Cheam Burt.Charya Cheam Burt began her training in classical Cambodian dance in 1982, at the School of Dance at the University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  She learned this traditional art form under the direction of the foremost dance masters of Cambodia, all survivors of the Pol Pot Regime.  In 1990, she received a teaching certificate and became a faculty member in the same institution.  An accomplished dancer, Charya was among the dozen dancers chosen to accompany the Cambodian Prince on his first overseas mission following the royalty’s return from exile in 1991.  As one of a small number of Cambodian dancers to have studied under the dance master Soth Som Onn, Charya has Khmer classical dance lineage by direct training.  Since moving to the United States in 1993, Burt has worked as a teacher and performer in Santa Rosa and the Bay Area, striving to keep Cambodian tradition alive.  She also presents lecture-demonstrations for a variety of audiences, revealing a strong commitment to and love of her art and her Cambodian traditions.

Classical Cambodian music and dance ensembles founded in America bring to life the story of Khmer civilization of Southeast Asia.  Classical Cambodian dance, also known as the Royal Court Dance, is one of Cambodian culture’s most precious art forms.  A highly stylized performance of mythology, in ancient times the dance served as communication between the kings and his gods.  In modern times, dances were performed at the court for foreign dignitaries and other privileged visitors.  Royal Court Dance almost disappeared during the rule of Pol Pot from 1975-1979, when up to 90 percent of the Khmer dancers perished.  Survivors and their students have set as their lifelong work the recording and preservation of that complex and intricate art, which includes 4,500 basic movements.

As a master artist in ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program in 2017, Charya Burt will mentor her apprentice Ryan Rithea Boun in Classical Cambodian dance. Focusing on two pieces Boun will further his skills portraying the male and “giant” characters found in these dance dramas.

Charya was a master artist in ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program in 2011, with apprentice Reaksmey Lath, and in 2007 with apprentice Prumsodun Ok.

In 2010, with support from ACTA’s Traditional Arts Development Program, Charya travelled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to attend workshops and observe rehearsals and performances of Akaeng Khameaso (The Lives of Giants), a production of the Khmer Arts Academy.

In 2007, with support from ACTA’s Traditional Arts Development Program, master musician Ho Chhim Chan conducted three five hour workshops with Charya; Alexis Alric, composer; and Andrew Yinn, xylophone musician.  The new work developed by the artists, Pha Kolab Keiv (Blue Roses), premiered at the 29th Annual San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival in June 2007.

In 2001, Charya was a master artist in ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program with apprentice Sameun Hin.  Their apprenticeship focused on providing individual instruction to Sam so that she could learn the detailed transitions in the movements and feel a connection within the dance, allowing her to flow with grace and rhythm.

Select Performances

A Gathering of Gamelans, ShawdowLight, Cowell Theater, San Francisco, California, October 2005

27th Annual San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival (8th appearance), Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, California, June 2005

Forever My Ancestors, Santa Rosa Cambodian Community Cultural Center, Santa Rosa, California, April 2005

Dance Presentation, Immigrant and Refugee Artists in the San Francisco Bay Area, San Francisco, California, April 2005


Dance USA’s Dance: Creation to Performance Grant, To create and produce a solo classical dance piece, Forever My Ancestors, 2004-2005

The Fund for Folk Culture’s California Traditional Arts Advancement Program, To conduct a series of dance workshops, Santa Rosa Cambodian Community Cultural Center, 2002-005

California Arts Council’s Multicultural Impact Grant, To conduct series of dance workshops, Santa Rosa Cambodian Community Cultural Center, 2004

California DanceMaker Grant, To create The Magic Peacocks, 2002-2003

Isadora Duncan Award for Outstanding Achievement in Individual Performance, 2000-2001

Alliance for California Traditional Arts’ Apprenticeship Program Master Artist, 2000-2001

Recent Teaching Experiences

Santa Rosa Cambodian Community Cultural Center, 13 students, Santa Rosa, California, 2002-2005

Carpenter Performing Arts Center’s Classroom Connection in six public schools sites in Long Beach, California, March 2005

Asian Pacific Islander Youth Promoting Advocacy and Leadership Dance Exchange workshop series, 15 students, Oakland, California, October 2004-January 2005

Santa Rosa Elise Allen High School, 60 students, Santa Rosa, California, November 2004

Professional Services

Educational presentations to schools or community organizations
Plans arts events
Cultural consultancies


Master Cambodian classical dancer Charya Burt (left) and her apprentice Reaksmey Lath.  Photo: Rob Burt

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