Oral Histories

Interview of Sophiline Cheam Shapiro

Teacher and performer of Cambodian dance. Co-founder of the Khmer Arts Academy in Long Beach, California, and the Sophiline Arts Ensemble at the Khmer Arts Academy in Cambodia.
Traditional Asian Arts in Southern California
Asian American History
Cline, Alex
Shapiro, Sophiline Cheam
Persons Present:
Shapiro and Cline.
Place Conducted:
Khmer Arts Academy in Long Beach, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Alex Cline, UCLA Library Center for Oral History Research. Cline has spent a considerable amount of his career as a jazz drummer/musician in Los Angeles.
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer prepared a timed log of the audio recording of the interview. Shapiro was given the opportunity to review the log in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content but made no changes.
4 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The Traditional Asian Arts in Southern California series focuses on both immigrants and second- or third-generation Asian Americans who have continued East Asian or Southeast Asian musical, dance, and performance traditions in Southern California. Some preserved their art form by adhering to the traditional forms of their disciplines, while others incorporated elements from Western arts and culture.
Birth and family background—Growing up in Phnom Penh—Awareness of conflict around her—Uncle learns classical and folk dance—Cambodia and French colonial rule--Dance tradition under French rule—Leaving Phnom Penh and living in a hut—Treating an infection with herbs—People dying of famine and illness—Living with another family—Being taken away from family by the Khmer Rouge—Death of family members—Battle between Vietnamese army and Khmer Rouge soldiers—Returning to Phnom Penh—Uncle establishes art colony
Being drawn to performance of traditional Cambodian arts and attending the school of fine art—Classical dance training—Becoming a teacher at the school of dance—Traveling with a folk dance troupe—Meeting husband, John Shapiro—Troupe dancers defect during U.S. tour—Marriage proposal and marriage process—Moving to Los Angeles—Learning English—Guilt on leaving Cambodia—Teaching in Long Beach—Attending UCLA as a dance ethnology major—Serving as an art director for the United Cambodian Community—Receiving a grant from the James Irvine Foundation—Founding the Khmer Arts Academy—Having children—Working with her husband—Relocating to Cambodia—Starting the Khmer Arts Ensemble in Cambodia—Interest in scholarship related to Cambodian dance—Collaborating with non-Cambodian artists—New piece “A Bend in the River.”