A Little Travel Memory … Cambodian Child Dancers, aka Can Your Fingers Do That?

One day I sat chatting with the children at the orphanage I volunteered at last year in Cambodian I stuttered into a shocked silence as they casually stretched their fingers backwards—their fingers dipping so far back over the top of their hands with pressure that the tips could actually touch their arms. I had been at the orphanage for several days by that point, but as I acclimated to the surroundings and developed a pace and routine I hadn’t (apparently) paid attention to the casual stretches that made up a strong part of nearly every child’s life if they were one of the ones studying traditional Khmer dancing.

Cambodian Dancer Children
Just as I used to practice my Irish dance steps under the chairs during lectures in class, these kids took any opportunity to stretch their fingers and further a process that takes years—the methodical warping of their hands that will enable them to skillfully execute the intricate hand movements inherent to Khmer Aspara dancing, Cambodia’s primary cultural dance. This dancing is on display as tourist-centric shows at the pubs in Siem Reap, but beyond that it’s also a very prominent part of Cambodia’s heritage, one that is gorgeous to watch and actually quite unique from some of the related dance styles in Thailand.

I didn’t catch a photo of the kids actually in action…or any of the professionals, but this photo blog has an amazing post highlighting just what these dancers can achieve with their hands.

So I dare you, try it out and see how far you can get your fingers to bend on their own and then using your other hand!?!

How’d ya do?

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  • rachelcotterill

    I can get to about 60 degrees backwards… you?

    • ShannonOD

      My fingers get barely anything – it's pretty much a 180 degree straight
      line, so good for you!

  • adventurerob

    Wow, this is something I totally missed in Cambodia, what dedication these kids have! That's quite a skill.

    Holding my wrist flat in line with my forearm I can move them up about 50 degrees, but I can't bend them at all if my elbow is bent like the kids in the photo.

    • ShannonOD

      Wow! You definitely have to check out this form when you go back to SEA,
      it's in other areas in nearby countries too!

  • Shannon, this photo makes me wince! There was a girl at my school from Cambodia who could do it, and I couldn't bare to look at her hands. It still freaks me out to this day!

    • ShannonOD

      I had a couple of those flinching moments too when watching the girls too!

  • Daniel

    Wow. Not even close! I have very inflexible wrists methinks. I love the Apsara dancing — all throughout the region, really. Up in Laos too!

    • ShannonOD

      I never managed to catch the dancing in Laos, but loved what I saw in
      Cambodia – the expressions through the hands is just phenomenal. Oh! And I
      also don't get far with the bending…I broke my wrist a few years go so
      it's not so flexible!

  • bessiejulia

    Great photo – amazing what we can get our bodies to do with a little practice. Hugs!

    • ShannonOD

      Thanks – I think it most surprised me that they had gotten their hands that
      flexible so young! Hugs right back! :-)

  • Johanna Voss

    Like most others, tried and didn’t even come close! Something to strive for :)

    Hit up yoga class this morning and after 11 months on the road with minimal yoga, I am lucky to do a mini backbend—on a good day!


    • ShannonOD

      Definitely something you'd have to be working on…like you, I wasn't even
      close on the fingers or wrist!

      I also just have that huge sighing moment when I get back into yoga after
      ages of moving around too fast to get in any practice!

  • joanna_haugen

    Wow … and ouch! I can't believe how far they can bend their hands back without forcing them back with pressure. Impressive.

    • ShannonOD

      The really young ones amazed me the most because they had already trained
      them like that at such a young age!