Cambodian Apsara dance costume

cambodian apsara dancer

Recently I have visited Cambodia and while being impressed by the architectural wonders of the Angkor Wat I was absolutely captivated by the Cambodian Classical Apsara dance. This dance is very slow and delicate and every gesture and pose is full of effortless grace and beauty. And not only I was charmed by the dance itself but by the costumes of the performers.
Apsaras are celestial dancers who entertain the gods and kings in Hindu mythology. They are spirits representing water and clouds (since the fluidity of the dance). The power of Apsaras over men is beyond comparison as both mortals and divinities cannot resist the charms of the celestial dancers. The Apsara dance already existed in the 6th-7th centuries. Hundreds of Apsaras are depicted on the stone carved walls of the Angkor site, especially in Angkor Wat and the ancient city of Angkor Thom and costumes of the present day Apsara dancers are based on those carvings.

cambodian dancers performing apsara dance

The main part of the costume is a skirt made from richly brocaded silk fabric called sampot sarabap. The patterns in this fabric are woven with a metallic thread. In the past, this type of cloth was imported from India with patterns specified by the Cambodian purchasers and made with real gold or silver threads.
The skirt is actually not a skirt but a length of cloth approximately 10 feet long and 39 inches wide (three meters long and one meter wide) that is draped around the hips in a sarong-like style with pleats at the front that are held in place with a decorative belt. The excess pleats that protrude above the belt are opened out into a fan shape at the front and because of the stiffness of the fabric, they held their shape. The fan-shaped pleats are called naga style because the finished effect resembles the winged head of the cobra or naga snake and thus are of particular importance.There is also another type of styling where part of the pleated brocade band just hangs over the belt on the left side of the belt buckle.

apsara dance costume from Cambodia

The prime character in the Apsara dance is the White Apsara, she is all dressed in white. Her fellow apsaras are dressed in skirts of different colours - red, blue, green.
The dancers of the Angkorian period didn't cover their upper bodies. As this would not be appropriate for the present times the modern Apsara dancers wear tight-fitting silk bodices, often in the colour of skin to imitate the bare-chested performers of the past. A round red or golden collar decorated with beaded designs and hanging leaf-shaped ornaments is worn over the bodice.

cambodian apsara dancer

Some dancers have a shawl-like garment called a sbai worn over their left shoulder. It is a very decorative part of the costume embroidered extensively with tiny beads and sequins in diamond-shaped floral patterns.
Another important element of the Apsara costume is the crown and the hairdressing on the whole. There are several types of crowns made up of three to five tall triangular forms with attached disks. The crown of the White Apsara is made with three or five points and two rows of disks, while the crowns of the subordinate dancers have only three tips and one row of disk decorations. In the past, the crowns were made of gold and weighed as much as 5 kg.

Real frangipani flowers are attached to the dancer’s long dark hair, a tassel of Jasmine flowers descend from the left side of the crown and a red rose or a frangipani flower is tucked above the right ear.
Dangling earrings, armbands, bangles and anklets that elegantly slide and clink together during performance complete the costume.

hair decorations of the cambodian apsara dancer
dance costume of cambodian classical performance

It takes up to three hours for the dancer to get ready for the performance but what we see at the end is a stunning exotic look and we do believe that this beauty is indeed a celestial dancer who is able to enchant any living mortal, be it a man or a woman.


  1. Wow!!! Very interesting post!!! I have been to Cambodia myself and had the opportunity to see Apsara dance and their costumes....absolutely breathtaking!!! Costumes, jewellery, headdress, makeup ans hair and the dancing itself mesmerize the viewer! Love the photos you posted, they reslly show how beautiful everything looks!!!

  2. Captivated blog about the dance and costume of Cambodia. Thanks for sharing the culture of this great country.