Trot Dance (Robam Trot) is a popular Khmer folk dance presently performed during the Khmer New Year. If the Chinese have Dragon Dance, Cambodian has Robam Trot to ward off bad luck from the previous year and celebrate the coming of the New Year.
Robam Trot or Trot dance is often performed by Cambodian citizens when the Khmer New Year comes around. Similarly, the Chinese Dragon dance and Trot dance in Cambodia is carried out to clear off the old year’s bad luck and honor the new year.
During the Khmer-Mon era, the dance was part of a tradition that was performed by the old Khmer, Por, Suoy, Samre, and indigenous people living in Surin, Battambang, Pursat, Srisaket, and Siem Reap.
Robam Trot has its origins at a mountainside nearby Tonle Sab, which was where it was first performed.
The dance was later taken on the international stage around 1955 and 1960. Then, it went on to have more characters added to the performance, including peacocks along with dancers. These people represent a spirit wearing extended black nails.
Trot Dance in Ancient Time
In those old days, the dance was done to safeguard inhabitants from terrible luck brought to the settlement by wild creatures.
The phrase Trot originates in Sanskrit and means "to conclude," as in concluding the preceding year.
Besides playing the Khmer new year fun game and watching other performances, the king preferred Robam Trot as a part of his leisure time. In the modern Angkor day, the king frequently ordered his people to perform the Trot dance for him.
Somrae is indigenous people who know exactly how the Trot dance is performed. Now, the Somrae people are Khmer-Mon descendants, who are living in Kulen, Siem Reap.
In short, Robam Trot marks the year-end and wishes the monarch well for the next year.
The folktale of Trot Dance Cambodia
Additionally, the dancer narrates a folk story about a hunter who ventured into the jungle one day for hunting. However, he was unable to spot any wildlife.
The hunter does the offering since he believes that the forest spirits are interfering with his ability to catch the animals. Then, a golden stag with glittering fur and horns made of jewels comes out of nowhere.
When he went to get the deer, he was struck by its beauty. Then he immediately had the idea of offering it to the monarch.
The monarch was delighted with his accomplishment and awarded him the status of a village chief. After that, the hunter continued to use the dancing performance as an offering to the woodland spirits who had granted him this luck.
Other than that, one of the folktales has a Buddhist connection. Buddha initially was a monk prior to attaining enlightenment.
In the middle of his way, a golden deer stops him. Buddha began praying to an angel. Then, the angel showed up as a hunter to help Buddha on his path to enlightenment by murdering the deer.
Trot Dance’s Performance Procedures
The dancer in front of the hunter is holding a kangcha, a 2.5-meter-tall pole with a fork-shaped top section.
People use a string to tie the head tips together. The string is embellished with dried fruit called Angkugn. Moreover, the noise is made by the metal components within when the thumb is pressed against the ground.
Both a performer and musicians begin the musical rhythm as the performance kicks off. The musicians play the music with Khmer musical instruments, such as Tro Saur and Tro Ou.
All performers begin by praying to their respective teachers. Then, there are people fleeing in chaos in any direction as if they were running in a maze. It seems as though their bodies are swinging to the rhythm of the drum.
Banana trunks are strapped to the hunter’s waist. The antler-wearing individual symbolizes the deer. He would dance the same way as the rest of the people and the hunter.
The deer person holds up the antlers swinging like the deer movement. Sometimes, he jumps and swings his head motion to perfect the dance and music. Occasionally, he runs around the circle.
The leading characters in the show usually wear peacock tail costumes and headdresses with full colors. The rest of the dancers smoothly make a dance.
In addition, a black nail girl also sings a song. She sometimes makes a beautiful sound by clicking her nails. The performers' bodies shift in time with the rhythms.
What Trot Dance Symbolises Cambodian Belief?
According to the archives of Dr. Michel Tranet, the performer's appearance in the dance wielding curled sticks is the earliest indication of the Trot dancing.
This instrument is shaped like a plowshare, and tiny bells or peacock's feathers are affixed to the ends of the bending sticks that are utilized to recite the music during the whole performance.
Moreover, the second sign depicts a pair of dancers dressed as feral oxen and displaying their horns in a playful embrace. In a concrete way, all these performers display the oxen that are being hunted by the hunter.
Thirdly, it symbolizes the holiness of this dance by portraying a forest fella along with a black face and a head surrounded by flowers and leaves, functioning as a spellcaster to protect the hunters in the jungle.
Animists celebrate this holiday by focusing on the good and evil dualism. It is also important to remember that many Khmer people believe in the spirits of their descendants, who are often shown as deer or peacocks, which reflects their religious unity.
All in all, Trot is associated with the concept that any wild creatures which approach the community cause bad luck and tragedy.
The old Khmer developed the Trot dance, which features wild creatures and allows local people to spritz perfumes, apply cosmetics, and tie knots. After that, people offer a prayer to that wild animal in hopes of receiving good fortune. As a consequence, this act prevents future bad fortune that might be caused by wild animals once entering the village.
Additionally, people have done this dance for many centuries in order to pray for rain during the drought. Besides playing a Khmer new year game, to celebrate Khmer New Year and provide good fortune and prosperity to everybody, Robam Trot is also done in this way.
1. Vansok, C. (2011, March-April). Chasing the bad luck away with Khmer Trot Dance. Cambodia Tourism Magazine, Issue 07, Volume 02(07), 42-43
2. MCFA & UNESCO (2004). Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Cambodia: A joint publication of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and UNESCO. Cambodia: JSRC Printing House.
3. The Trot Dance. (n.d.). Khmer Chhankitek Calendar. Retrieved April 14, 2022, from http://www.cam-cc.org/calendar/newyear_trot.php