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Dance has a rich history in Thailand, dating back more than 500 years. Over the centuries, royal courts have been important patrons of classical dance, one of the region’s most celebrated art forms, which incorporates theatrical elements to interpret epic tales of history and culture. 

Today’s Doodle celebrates Thai dancer Manlee Kongprapad, born in Bangkok’s Yai District on this day in 1885, who fell in love with dance at an early age and overcame a humble upbringing to distinguish herself within royal circles as a renowned performer and later as a teacher.

Kongprapad was raised by a single mother who worked in a palace kitchen. Her mother’s job gave her the opportunity to watch royal dance performances, the young Kongprapad quickly became enchanted by the dancers’ ornate costumes and graceful movements. She was so captivated that she briefly ran away from her mother to practice the choreography. Receiving training from masters of the ancient art form, she became so proficient that she was recognized as a favorite of the court—even inventing some of her own moves that are still practiced to this day.

Kongprapad would eventually become a part of the first generation of teachers to provide formal dance training at Thailand’s first School of Drama and Musicology, which was founded in 1934 and later renamed the College of Dramatic Arts. In doing so, she helped preserve the rich cultural tradition that had changed her life, opening up similar opportunities for future generations of dancers.

Happy birthday, Manlee Kongprapad!

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