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Festival Spotlight: Sokeo Ros Creates a “Movement Language” by Melding Dance Techniques

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

Photo by Philip Holt

For Sokeo Ros, whose family fled the Cambodian genocide more than thirty years ago and arrived in the U.S. in the 1980s, dance is not simply one form or style. Rather, Sokeo combines a wide variety of dance techniques to create what he calls a “movement language of different vocabularies all intertwined into one,” he says.

“This is the story I want to tell because like the One Journey refugee festival, we are telling our stories in our different ways and my way of doing so” is through movement and personal narrative.

As a result of the Cambodian genocide that occurred from 1975 to 1979, Sokeo’s family and several other families escaped the country and fled to neighboring Thailand.

Sokeo was born in a Thai refugee camp in the back of a trailer truck that had been set up as a temporary hospital. His brother was born in 1982 and approximately six months later the family was sponsored to go to the United States.

His family’s initial landing spot in the U.S. was California, where they stayed for a few days. They subsequently settled in Iowa, where they lived for a few years and then moved to Rhode Island, which is where Sokeo currently lives.

He is Director for the Center at Moore Hall and Director of the PC Smith Hill Annex at Providence College in Rhode Island and lives in Cranston, Rhode Island. He is also a faculty member for the Masters of Education in Urban Teaching program at Providence College and a Faculty member at College Unbound.

Photo by James Monteiro

Sokeo, who has been performing and developing choreographies with professional dance companies since high school, notes that while he has found welcoming communities in the U.S., he has also encountered communities that have issues tied to racism, “that do not see me as who I am, but what society labels you as with these negative narratives of a gang member or ‘you are filled with tattoos, nothing more than just that.’”

But when he tells “them my story and who I am – as a professor, as the director of Moore Hall at Providence College,” as well as his tours, “they don’t see me as that still because of the way I look. That’s what we’re trying to break in terms of these barriers and these cyclical, traumatic, negative labels that have been given to many of the youth in communities similar to marginalized communities like mine.”

For Sokeo, dance, hip hop and the arts saved his life, he said. Without those, “I’d be dead or in jail, with certain choices, or not understanding my traumas,” he says.

Breakdancing -- also known as breakin’ -- offered the initial entry for Sokeo into the world of dance. “Since then, breaking has opened so many different pathways and avenues towards other forms of dance,” he says.

When he dances, Sokeo combines techniques from breakin’, poppin’ and lockin’, Cambodian dance, modern dance and Krump, a form of dance that originated on the West Coast.

Sokeo, who has participated in the One Journey Festival for the past several years, says he “loves the One Journey of all of us, of refugees, and celebrating all of our differences and our stories as to how we became -- and creating who we are -- as refugees, but also who we identify as,” and then being able to highlight that and “having the autonomy of our own voice, mind, body and soul and giving that to the world and hopefully being accepted as who we are.”

Photo by Patrick McCabe

You can see Sokeo Ros live at the One Journey Festival on Saturday, June 24 at the Washington National Cathedral. Get your free tickets to this full day of celebration, food, shopping and fun HERE.

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