CAGE taking center stage
We sat down with Lanica Angpak, founder of Cambodian American Girls Empowering. We chatted about what the organization does, balancing a 9-5 and a passion project, and how you (yes, you) can get involved in their mission.
We are excited to introduce an exciting new series called #TenantTalks. Every week, we feature one of our tenants and having them answer the questions you posed a few weeks back. Get ready to get schooled about all our amazing tenants!
What is CAGE?
CAGE stands for Cambodian American Girls Empowering. We started in 2015 as a small dance troupe of young women that just wanted a space to learn do traditional Cambodian dance, but also learn what it means to be Khmer American, second generation. Our mission is to create safe spaces for folks to explore Khmer arts and culture and how to navigate identity.
“It was really important for me to find space where I could ensure that the voice of my community is still within my community.”
Can you tell us a little about your programming?
We do public and private performances. We do performances for schools, weddings…we really run the gambit of events. We also provide arts and cultural workshops. Most recently, we did an arts and crafts table that celebrates identity at Southwark Elementary School for their Rolling Rodeo day. We also do social dance workshops and talk about Khmer culture. In terms of higher education institutions like Penn and Temple, we’ve done workshops on community organizing, self care, and about identity.
How did you build this organization to what it is today?
We are a non profit organization and we are fiscally sponsored by CultureWorks Trust Greater Philadelphia. Love you CultureWorks! And a lot of our work has been grassroots, so it’s about the partnerships that we’ve been able to create with not just other Asian organizations, but also with the city and local schools that around this neighborhood. We work with Southwark, Key School, and other local elementary schools. We’ve also partnered with Temple and Penn. These partnerships allowed us to bring what we have to the table.
Who makes up your team?
We are completely volunteer run. I work 9-5 for the city so this is what I do during my lunch break or after work or on the weekends. All of my dance troupe members are volunteers, so it’s really a labor of love.
When did you decide to “go big?”
The idea started in 2015 around my parents’ dining table, but I just couldn’t do it around the dining table anymore. I was really lucky to partner with my office mate, Sarun Chan [of secondNATURE]. He was looking for a space and it was really “what is the smallest space that Bok could offer us for what we could afford?” That step was a jump off the cliff with the hope of the bungee cord catching us.
What attracted you to Bok?
It was sort of a homecoming. We wanted to reclaim space in the community for our community. The Cambodian community is right at 7th and Snyder, which is only a few blocks away from here. It was really important for me to find space where I could ensure that the voice of my community is still within my community.
What is currently inspiring you?
I was added to a group of Khmer-American dancers from all over the US on Facebook. It’s one thing to be connected to someone from DC, someone from Long Beach, but it’s a whole other world to see how vast the network is. I’m talking to folks from Minnesota, from Seattle, from places that I didn’t even know there were other Khmer people. That’s what’s really pushing me to do the work and do it bigger than we’ve done it before by expanding our programming. I’m so inspired by folks in such remote areas who are like, “we don’t really know what we’re doing, but we’re gonna do it because we need to keep upholding it.”
What’s something you want Philadelphia to know about you?
We’re here! We are more than just dancers. I have teaching artists, and I myself provide workshops and trainings and things on youth development and community organizing. We are more than just performers. We’re educators.
What are your working on now?
We are working on our second year of year-round programming of weekly dance classes. That’s coming up. We do summer workshops here at Bok. Personally, I’ll be using our studio to do a community archival/photo project where I’ll be offering free archival digitizing photos for the community to create a public archive so we can document our community and our lives. It will be a space where folks can rifle through photos and maybe they can find loved ones or old friends. Then, we’ll be taking those photos and recreating them in the present time. We’ll be doing the archiving in the summer and recreating photos in the fall. We’ll have an exhibit in December.
How can people support you and your mission?
Folks can donate! It’s really easy to do online. Monthly donations, one-time donations, a dollar, whatever.