Interview: Devi Vanhon, founder of the first Ballet School in Cambodia

Devi Vanhon - Central School of Ballet Phnom Penh
Performance in Phnom Penh:
Photo by Jeremie Montessuis / Film Noir Studio

“I started ballet really late at the age of 15 and immediately fell in love with it. Why you ask? I guess what always fascinated me with dance was the stability it provided me. I was homeschooled at that time and I had just left Switzerland”

 We met Devi Vanhon several times during her last stay in Bangkok. She was there for some photo shoots and business, and we had the chance to sit and talk with her in different occasions. It is always very interesting to talk to her. Devi is a very special person, smart and absolutely out of the ordinary. She is the founder of Central School of Ballet Phnom Penh, the first Ballet School in Cambodia, opened in 2012.

The story of the school is very interesting, almost as Devi’s life. Half Swiss, half Cambodian, Devi hails from a family of royals and politicians, being the granddaughter of Khmer Princess Norodom Thiek and the great-grandniece of former Cambodian Prime Minister Chau Sen Cocsal Chhum. She just attained the Royal Academy of Dance’s Intermediate level Vocational Examination. She brings her love of dance and her own experience in the dance school environment to her role as Business Director of Central School of Ballet Phnom Penh.

Devi Vanhon - Central School of Ballet Phnom Penh
Photo by http://samjamphoto.com
Devi Vanhon - Central School of Ballet Phnom Penh
Performance in Phnom Penh:
Photo by Jeremie Montessuis / Film Noir Studio

Can you tell us something about your passion for classical ballet? How did you start, what made you fall in love with it?

I started ballet really late at the age of 15 and immediately fell in love with it. Why you ask? I guess what always fascinated me with dance was the stability it provided me. I was homeschooled at that time and I had just left Switzerland. We were moving a lot, I was going through my teens and my life was constantly changing. Ballet gave me stability, structure and discipline. Plus every time I entered the ballet studio, I could leave everything that was going on in my life behind and be immersed in something that made me feel passionate.

Devi Vanhon - Central School of Ballet Phnom Penh
Performance in Phnom Penh:
Photo by Jeremie Montessuis / Film Noir Studio

I had to stop ballet for 15 years before getting back to it, but when did, it felt the same as when I first started. It gave me that same structure and stability. It’s what kept me sane. And I was fortunate to meet the right person at the right time who shared this same passion – my ballet teacher. He was at a crossroads too in his life at that time. A common passion for ballet is what brought us together and we thought there would be enough interest in this art to warrant starting Cambodia’s first ballet school. I had nothing to lose. I was ready to give up everything else to dive into ballet business and ballet training.

Students at Central School of Ballet Phnom Penh
Students at Central School of Ballet Phnom Penh

Classical ballet is a very tough activity, but many girls dream about becoming a ‘ballerina’. What is your advice to a young girl who would like to become a ballerina, and (we can imagine the family will have to support this passion) to her family?

Ballet is indeed very demanding. To become a ballet dancer you need the strength and determination of an SAS trained soldier. You need to find a teacher or mentor who believes in your dream just as much as you do. And of course the support of the family is crucial too as ballet is an expensive activity. Tuition, dance wear, trips to the physio…it all adds up.

“You are not only a classical ballet dancer, but also a Radio Host, a singer, a DJ… where do you find the time and most of all the energy to do all these things?”

True, I co-host a radio show every morning during the week and I sing and DJ occasionally. When you do things that you really like, you do work very hard, but you just don’t notice it as much. And I find that the more things I do, the more restless I get and more things I want to do.

Can you tell us more about all these activities, from Radio to singing… and more??

I have been working in radio since 2008. I got into it by chance really. I attended a concert in Phnom Penh where I met people from a local English language radio station. I befriended some of them and somehow a week later I was working at that radio. Through the radio I met other people in the entertainment industry. One thing led to another and I got to learn how to DJ and started to play in clubs. Then there is also singing, but that is a lot more recent. My best friend who is from Germany and I have a French musician friend in common with whom we really wanted to start something musically, we had ideas and concepts, but there never seemed to be any time for it. We’d schedule meetings and rehearsals, but our friend always had something else more important coming up. So we got really fed up and decided to start something on our own and me and my own too. And it’s working. I am getting there; I am getting gigs. People are slowly showing interest and some musicians want to work with me.

Alessio Cristianini for Trendystyle Hong Kong