Young Cambodians smash dance record

Project Director of Loy9

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On a stormy day in April, almost 1000 young people gathered in Wat Batum Park in central Phnom Penh to try something that had never been done before. For exactly five minutes, and observed by dozens of independent witnesses, they performed in perfect unison a line-dance called 'The Madison'… and set a new Guinness World Record in the process.

The dance event was timed to mark the end of the first series of hit youth TV programme Loy9. Launched in Cambodia in January 2012, Loy9 has seen audiences of up to two and a half million viewers on TV, and the participation of thousands of young people on its radio phone-in shows, online discussions and other live events around the country.

While verification of the record took some time, it comes just as we have secured the agreement on broadcasting a second series that will launch in March 2013. Series Two of Loy9 will continue to help young people get involved in their local community, and to understand their electoral process in time for the July 2013 national elections.

So, why a mass dance event? Well, because having dealt with topics like local governance and debating complex social issues, Loy9 wanted to end its TV series with a celebration of young people’s ability to take on major challenges, and a reminder that participation in public life is fun and beneficial.

And why the Madison, rather than a traditional Khmer dance? The Madison originated in the US and became particularly popular in France, but since the 1960s Cambodians have taken to it like it is their own. It is performed at weddings and other celebrations all over the country. Most people in the country therefore know the basic moves, so it was a realistic goal to have a massive Madison dance as the big finish to the first TV series. And the fact that it is also danced in a number of other countries means that 'Largest Madison' is a recognised category with Guinness World Records®.

Cambodia is a country still recovering from decades of conflict, and commentators generally agree that space for public participation and freedom of expression are limited. Our own research also shows that young people’s engagement in civic life is usually minimal; few have significant experience expressing their opinions, talking about their achievements, or having a say in how their communities are run. Outside of school and the home, young people tend to keep quiet.

Loy9 aims to change that - safely and sensitively. The programmes we are making now will give young people a better understanding of topics such as what their local government and the national Parliament do, how to register to vote, and what opportunities exist to use the arts and media to express their opinions, form networks or carry out research. This in turn will help young Cambodians to take part in - perhaps even lead - cultural and sporting activities, local development projects, and both traditional and new media.

Proud record breakers with their certificate.

When we got together this week to celebrate receiving the official recognition of our achievement, DJ Khlaing also turned up. A nationally celebrated hip hop artist and esteemed 'Loy9er' (he wrote and recorded the Loy9 theme-tune entirely pro bono), he said to me, "The world already knows Cambodia through culture and Angkor Wat. Today we have come together to make the world know us for our youth activities. I strongly believe that we can break another record, when we work together and learn from each other".

To me, that's Loy9 in a nutshell – learning, achieving, supporting self-belief, and working together to create a place for young people’s meaningful (and fun) participation.

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