Contributed by guest writer Christian Wilson
The 7th Annual "Te Mahana Hiro'a O Tahiti" Tahitian Dance Competition was held at the Polynesian Cultural Center on July 6-7, 2007. Each year a traditional heiva is held in Papeete, Tahiti to celebrate the culture and traditions of dance and drumming. The PCC holds its annual Tahitian cultural celebration in honor of the celebration. The preliminary competition started at 7:30 pm in the Hale Aloha Theater with every single seat taken. If you arrived later, there was standing room only. There were over 175 contestants mostly from the Hawaiian Islands and some from the mainland as well. The quality of dancing, costuming and music seems to improve as each year goes by. Families and friends of the contestants seems to grow in number each year as well. There were several age categories for girls and boys between 2-18 years of age. All of the judges, Moanaura Teheiura, Jeanne Mou’a Larsen, Roiti Tahauri Sylva, and Etua Tahauri, were from Tahiti and have a total of over 100+ years Tahitian dance experience.
The second day of the competition took place in the Pacific Theater inside the Polynesian Cultural Center with over a thousand people in attendance. The event started with the top 5 finalists of each category competing for the top 1st, 2nd and 3rd place trophies. It took a while for all the finalists to be determined. After that, the overall best male and female dancers were selected. This process was extraordinarily long and had many awkward breaks that you would think would have been filled with other presentations. The delays could have been minimized if the musicians had an alternate place to set up their equipment while another group performed.
Saturday's events also included the group ote'a, aparima and ahuroa competitions. The ote'a is the best-known Tahitian style of dance because of the fast, rhythmic movements and swishing skirts. The aparima, literally translated as "kiss of the hands," is a slower dance that uses the hands to tell a story. The ahuroa, or "long dress" is a slower, graceful female dance which is performed with long colorful fitted dresses. Dancers were judged in each category based on their skill, grace and, for the ote'a, speed. "We started the event as a way to help preserve these aspects of Tahitian culture and heritage through the tamari'i, or children," said Raymond Marieteragi, director of cultural presentations for the Tahitian village at the PCC. "This really gives the children's pupu ra'atira ori Tahiti, or Tahitian dance instructors, an opportunity to highlight their young students as they compete and display their skills in the exciting art of 'Ori Tahiti' or Tahitian dance."
The costuming and choreography of all three groups was impressive. My only complaint being the stage set up for the musicians. With such a large stage and multiple areas to set up support and musicians, the "dead" air was very noticeable. Delays in events could be replaced by explanations of how judges determine the best choreography, authenticity of costuming, proper dancing elements, history of Heiva, drumming beats, what to look for in a good dancer. etc
Although there are only about 200 expatriate Tahitians that live in the State of Hawaii, you wouldn't be able to tell that from the overwhelming support that Tahitian dancers receive from fellow Polynesians living in Hawaii. Most Hawaiians treat Tahitians as cousins since their languages, customs and dancing styles are relatively similar and share the same heritage.
Nonosina Hawaii (Laie, HI) used a traditional lauhala leaf helmet in their otea in a very creative way that I had never seen before. It was interesting to see how the leaves flowed during the dancers' vigorous dance movements. The helmet looked similar to an Egyptian headress, but it is was very Tahitian at the same time.
I was very impressed with some of the younger dancers under 9-10 years old that have mastered complex motions that normally only adult professionals acquire only after years of practice. The dance competition gives the youth of the community not only some recognition for their dancing skills, but it also can give an opportunity to prospective employers such as the Polynesian Cultural Center to hire new dancers.
Entertainment companies such as Cirque du Soleil routinely visit PCC's annual Fire Knife Competition to scout for new talented dancers. Some of the dancers they have hired have done very well for themselves. I have known many Tahitian dancers who danced as elementary and high school students who easily passed dancing auditions because of the practice they had in Tahitian or Polynesian dance troupes. Once they passed their auditions, they were able to work as they went to college and their employment helped them pay for most or all of their college education. Their dancing experience can open other doors for opportunities as well. Many talent agencies are interested in Polynesian dancers and having that skill can make a difference.
It is exciting to see the growing interest in Tahitian dance from people from all over the world such as Japan, the mainland, South America and Europe. As interest in Tahitian dance grows, more people will be motivated to visit Tahiti so they can learn more about them.
Competition rating (4 out of 5 stars)
Organization rating (3 out of 5 stars)
Dancer energy rating (5 out of 5 stars)
Community support rating (5 out of 5 stars)
Though organization and management could vastly improve, the dancers themselves, with their enthusiasm and vibrant costuming made the event an enjoyable occasion.
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Trivia note: Original design of the event website was designed by Black Pearl Designs