Oral Histories

Interview of Waewdao Sirisook

Performer and teacher of traditional Northern Thailand dance forms. Founder of the dance company Lan Sattha.
Traditional Asian Arts in Southern California
Asian American History
Biographical Note:
Performer and teacher of traditional Northern Thailand dance forms. Founder of the dance company Lan Sattha.
Cline, Alex
Sirisook, Waewdao
Persons Present:
Sirisook and Cline.
Place Conducted:
Cline's home in Culver City, 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 transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Sirisook was then given an opportunity to review the transcript but made no corrections or additions.
5 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.
Father’s family background—Mother’s family background—Sirisook’s siblings—Her relationship with her father—Her mother’s role in the family—Household chores and responsibilities at home while growing up in Chiang Rai, Thailand—How her mother dealt with rainstorms at home—Buddhist and animist religious practices at home—She excels in school at an early age, then loses interest at around age ten—Music and dance Sirisook experienced as a youth—Changes in her attitude and interests upon reaching her teen years—Early aspiration to be a fashion designer—Early encounters with Western pop culture—Her regrets about her choices as a teenager—Her mother catches her the morning after Sirisook had snuck out of the house to go to the discotheque—She leaves her teen interests behind upon entering Chiang Mai University—Upon beginning her studies at the university’s Department of Fine Arts and majoring in Thai arts, she begins to learn the dances of the diverse cultures of Northern Thailand, the Lanna style—She is trained to develop her own personal versions of the traditional dances—Relative lack of direct contact with neighboring countries’ dance forms—The rich cultural heritage of Northern Thailand’s so-called ethnic minorities is honored and encouraged in her department at the university—The curriculum of the Thai arts program at the university—The students in the Thai arts program—Her parents’ feelings about her choice of life direction—Her siblings’ life directions—She graduates from Chiang Mai University in 1999—Dance teachers who influenced and inspired Sirisook.
Sirisook loses an early fascination with ballet—She tours as a dancer performing in the Northern Thai style in Asia and Europe while a student at the university—Her feelings about Germany and Japan after spending time there—The two different types of touring programs with which she was involved at the time and their respective sources of support—Editing, music, and improvisation employed in the performances—Performing Lanna dance in Central Thailand—More on improvisation in the Lanna style of dance and its link with the history of Northern Thailand—Feelings toward the Burmese by the people of Northern Thailand—Burmese refugees in Thailand—Increase in acceptance and appreciation of the Lanna dance style in the rest of Thailand—Contexts in which Sirisook can perform more expanded versions of her dances—The impact on traditional performing arts of contemporary audiences’ shorter attention spans and interest in excitement—Her involvement in a service project with the Grand Circle Foundation after graduating from the university—After being very impressed by a video of Balinese trance dance, she travels to Bali, where she studies Balinese dance for six months—After returning to Thailand, she participates in a show in Chiang Mai that takes place in the water—Her dance training in Bali—Comparing the approach to traditional performing arts in Bali with that in Thailand—Her experience seeing trance dance in Northern Thailand and her impressions of it—She begins performing as part of the cultural programming at the Mandarin Oriental Daradawi Chiang Mai Hotel but tires of the commercial aspects of it—She decides to apply to various colleges and universities for a graduate degree in dance—Her earlier trips to Los Angeles and New York—Learning English—Her impressions of the performing experience in L.A. versus that in Northern Thailand—Thoughts about the state of museums in Thailand in relation to ideas about the value of people’s knowledge and skills—A sudden acceptance from UCLA’s World Arts and Cultures (WAC) department leads to Sirosook traveling to L.A. and beginning her graduate study there in 2005—Her living arrangement in L.A upon arriving there—She begins teaching dance to children in L.A.’s Thai community on weekends—Reasons she did not teach dance in the Thai Buddhist temples in the L.A. area—The Los Angeles Thai community's perception of the Lanna dance style that Sirisook practices—Classes she took upon starting at UCLA—How her coursework in World Arts and Cultures deepened and enhanced her conceptual awareness of her work as a dancer—Department members' heightened concern with social issues and their relevance to dance performance.
Reasons Sirisook pursued a Ph.D. outside Thailand—Diversity of dance styles represented by the students in WAC when she was a student there—Change in WAC’s focus since she was there—Practical skills she learned while in WAC—How exposure to different forms of dance helped Sirisook in her own work—The beginnings of her own dance company, Lan Sattha, in 2008—The meaning of the name Lan Sattha—The ethnic diversity of Lan Sattha’s dancers—How Sirisook met her husband, Michael Sakamoto—She seeks employment as a teacher after graduating from UCLA—Reasons that bring students to learn Thai dance from her—Her approach to teaching Lanna dance—Her general lack of connection with the L.A. area’s Thai community and its youth—Rarity of her connection with other Asian dance performers in the L.A. area—How Sirisook’s early training as a dancer informs the inclusive and improvisational approach to her current work—Balancing the challenge of needing to make a living while performing and teaching that which she loves—Her employment as a professor at Payap University in Thailand—Her feelings about Buddhist practice in relation to her life and work—Activities and aspirations for Lan Sattha and for her work when she’s in L.A.—The challenge of enlisting male dancers in Lan Sattha—How she divides her time between L.A. and Thailand—Aspirations she and Michael have to procure and curate an art space in Thailand—Her other projects, Waewdao Sirisook & Michael Sakamoto Dance Theater and Authentic Yellow Dance—Her interest in exploring the deeper meaning of beauty and how it informs her own identity as “authentic yellow”—Ways her own dance culture manifests in her work in L.A. and Thailand—Cultural and linguistic characteristics among her, Michael, and her family in Thailand—Considering the possibility of full-time employment—Cultural challenges regarding potential family plans—Reasons Sirisook doesn’t want to live full-time in L.A.—Reasons and ways she wants to continue to develop her own dance culture in both L.A. and Thailand—Her view of the uncontrollable future of Asian American culture—Her questions about how Thai people view their culture in light of their escaping the fate of their neighboring countries—The present-day impact of Western culture on Thailand—Issues of politics, corruption, and safety in present-day Thailand—How her appreciation of her dance tradition becomes more pronounced when she’s in L.A.—How her experience in L.A. changed the way she looks at the world.