Samui Wining & Dining
Under the Spotlight

Keeping it all in the family with Khun Loy and her Thai Classical Dance and Music Show.

 

19Imagine you’re an alien. The sort that zips around galaxies looking out for new life-forms. Wanting to check on the culture of planet Earth, you hover somewhere out of sight and pick up music on your radio. And, after listening for an hour, you’ve touched on everything between Tchaikovsky and techno. What report would you send back home, I wonder. What conclusions would you form about the musical style on this peculiar planet?

 

And that, believe me, is a close parallel to an outsider hoping to understand more about Thai dancing! I know ‘outsiders’ who have lived here for 20 years and are still perplexed. Of course, if you actually study the subject (rather than just dip into it for an hour every month or so) then that’s a different matter. And that’s exactly what Khun Loy’s family have been doing for the last 35 years.

 

Khun Loy, more formally known as Khun Somporn Imkamol, runs what is probably Samui’s longest-established troupe of dancers and musicians. They’ve been appearing here at civic occasions, temple fairs, festivals, hotels and resorts for a little over ten years now. And the chances are that, if you’ve seen any Thai dancing whilst you’ve been here, you’ll have already seen the group without knowing it: they appear regularly at a number of the island’s best resorts. But to get to grips with the story, and discover more about the dancing, we have to go back a generation and head towards Bangkok.

 

This is where Khun Loy was born and grew up, in a household that revolved around dance, dancing and dancers (“My mother told me that I was already dancing before I could walk!”). And by the time Khun Loy was in her teens she was already a part of the family’s dance group and performing several evenings each week. But in the early 1990s, the whole family and several of the group up-rooted themselves and headed for the opportunities of Phuket, the then-flourishing holiday destination which was attracting the rich and the famous from all over the world.

 

And, in 2000, with the blessing of her family, Khun Loy decided to set-up on Samui. “I didn’t really break away on my own,” she explained. “It’s more like another branch of the family business and I keep the same name – S. Dontri Charoen. But on my business card it also says ‘Thai Classical Dance and Music Show’, which just about explains it all!

 

Khun Loy lives with her husband and two young children in a roomy house on the island’s north coast in Mae Nam. But the ‘family’ includes six regular dancers and five musicians, too. This is the main core of the group and you’ll see most of them together at the house every day at 2:00 pm for an hour’s rehearsal. There are four women dancers and two men, aged between 18 and their mid-30s. Plus there are also another eight accomplished performers who attend from time to time to keep in practice. They form a kind of ‘pool’; a reserve that can be relied upon in times of ill-health or high-season multiple-bookings. The musicians, although tightly-knit and very much an integral part of the group, usually rehearse elsewhere; it can get a bit crowded when everyone gets together all at the same time!

 

Thai dance is stylised and traditional, with the most recent element, the rustic genre of Pong Lang, having only become a part of it all somewhere in the 1930s. But it can be broken down into four general areas. The oldest and most widely-performed pieces come from the Central Region. These include some of the refined courtly dances but also vigorous pieces featuring warriors and heroes. The Northern Region also features courtly dances but draws more heavily on folk-dance traditions. The South is famous for the legend of ‘The Manora’, a lengthy folk-saga, and also contains influences of the Malaysian culture. And dances from the North East reflect the rural and cheerful legends and lifestyle of the farmers. This is where you’ll find the Thai equivalent of ‘Country and Western’ music, the bouncy ‘Pong Lang’, which has spread throughout the nation and even found its way into contemporary music and television.

 

As well as regional styles and dances,” Khun Loy continued, “you can also further split everything into two. ‘Classical Dance’ has come down to us from the old traditions of the Royal Court and ancient legends. But ‘Folk Dance’ is livelier and has emerged from all regions mostly over only the last two hundred years. This is probably what visitors to Thailand remember the most. The ‘Bamboo Dance’, for example, where dancers skip between a maze of foot-crushing bamboo poles, or the lovely ‘Candle Dance’, where every dancer holds a lighted candle in each hand. There are countless thousands of dances in Thailand and I know a lot of them, but I’ve no idea how many.

 

It’s hard work learning all this and then taking it out on display around the resorts. Each of the dancers begins their make-up at home at around 6:00 pm. They then head to Khun Loy’s house to select their costumes before climbing aboard the waiting transport, along with the musicians, and make their way to their venue. Shows usually start at 8:00 pm and last for an hour. But at the peak periods there are occasions when the group calls-in the reserves and they’ll cover two, sometimes three shows at different resorts, simultaneously. Phuket has a different high season, and so usually Khun Loy’s family come over here for a working holiday when it’s quiet there to help out. “And at the end of the year,” Khun Loy added, “we take a break and go to Phuket to do the same thing in reverse. It’s still very much a family business – 35 years and still going strong.

 

And should you happen to be an alien wanting to take back the secrets of Thai dance to your own galaxy – please take note. You can see Khun Loy and her Thai Classical Dance and Music Show at Bandara Resort & Spa and Banana Fan Sea Resort every week. And you’d be hard pressed to find a better example on this planet!

 

Rob De Wet

 


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