Monkey Dance provides an intimate look at what it means for the children of genocide survivors to come of age in America.
Samnang Hor, an athletic 16-year-old born in a refugee camp in Thailand, is driven to achieve to make up for his two older brothers dropping out of high school due to their involvement with gangs and drugs. Sochenda Uch, a lanky, fashion-conscious 16-year-old, works a series of part-time jobs to pay for the necessities and accessories of teen life, while his mother worries that he doesn’t study hard enough. Linda Sou is a freewheeling 17-year-old who struggles to overcome the shame cast on her family when her older sister was imprisoned for murdering an abusive boyfriend. Linda has been dancing since age three, when her father founded the Angkor Dance Troupe to preserve Cambodian culture in America – though she’s more interested in boyfriends and fast cars.
It is dance, both traditional and modern, that ultimately makes a difference for these kids. They belong to the Angkor Dance Troupe, which preserves Cambodian dance traditions almost lost when 90% of its practitioners were killed in the violence of the Khmer Rouge. Cambodian dance provides Linda, Sam, and Sochenda with a unique connection to their parents’ culture at a time when many immigrant kids reject traditional culture, considering it irrelevant to their lives in America. By making the dance their own, each of these young people forge a link with the past while also finding their way in America – where creativity, self-expression, and individual achievement are critical keys to success.