SEATTLE — The Lao American community lost one of its widely respected master artists in April. Community builder Pom Outama Khampradith, the founder of the Kinnaly Dance Troupe passed away from cancer at the age of 42 in Seattle, Wash.
Born Chittraphone Pom Outama in 1971 in Vientiane, Laos, she was consistently involved in the Lao Reconstruction efforts of the 20th and 21st century. Her family was one of many that had been split apart in the aftermath of the conflicts in Southeast Asia.
Pom and her younger brother went to France in 1982, while her two older sisters had resettled in Hawaii with an aunt after a brief period in Thailand. Her father had been sent to a re-education camp in Northern Laos. They were not able to reunite until 1990, nearly 15 years later.
Pom went on to study at the University of Washington, where she became a part of the Lao Student Association. There she helped to organize events for the mainstream and Lao community that explored the modern Lao identity and heritage. She became involved with the Lao Northern Association that would play a significant role in her community work throughout her life.
Many of Pom’s skills she learned during her time in France in the 1980s, where her family and friends introduced her to the Lao arts and literature, as well as French literature and culture. She trained under Laos’ most celebrated dance master, Ajarn Kongseng Pongphimkham.
There were many years she spent searching for herself. She became involved with community groups such as the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project and Lao Vision Magazine. She ultimately settled down in Seattle with her husband Phon William Khampradith and her son Ravi, who she often credited as a source of her inspiration and success in life.
A dancer for over 25 years, Pom Outama Khampradith became the Director of the Lao Heritage Foundation’s Pacific Northwest Chapter, and managed the national public and community relations for the Lao Heritage Foundation.
Upon founding the Kinnaly Dance Troupe, she spent over a decade she teaching and inspiring Lao American youth Lao traditional dance, music and culture, creating innovative approaches to making the arts accessible to the community. The Kinnaly Dance Troupe has performed internationally at events such as the 2003 History Symposium on Laos at the University of California-Berkeley, the International Conferences on Lao Studies, and the International Lao New Year Festival which she helped to establish. She and her students were recognized for their contribution to Lao arts and dance at the 2010 Lao Artists Festival in Elgin, Illinois. The troupe takes its name from a legendary creature famed for its beauty and artistry.
In 2011, Pom Outama Khampradith organized the Lao Cultural Exchange Program in Laos and a follow-up trip in 2013 to have a historic meeting with traditional and emerging masters of the Lao arts in Laos and the United States. She developed a comprehensive curriculum including the study of traditional Lao arts and crafts, Lao language and folklore in order to build character and artistic excellence.
In addition to her talents as a dancer and teacher, she was well-regarded for her literary talents as a poet, a short-story writer, and blogger. She happily assisted other emerging and established writers, and helped organize many events gathering Lao artists nationwide. Community leaders from around the world expressed their sympathies to her family, friends and community.
Washington has approximately 11,000 Lao residents with the majority living in or near Seattle. It is considered the 4th largest Lao American community in the United States. You can visit the Kinnaly Dance Troupe online at: http://kinnaly.net.