Wednesday, August 29, 2012

‘Ahuroa: Dancing a Legacy - The Show

Have you ever wondered where and how we have the modern version of Tahitian dance? How about where the names came from, the rules, the styles, and/or even how it made its way outside of Tahiti? This original five part series dives into these questions and more. Below is part 1 of 5 by guest author Eric Ka'ahele Morales, one of the organizers of the Kiki Raina Tahiti Fete, the longest running Tahitian Heiva outside of Tahiti.  He, along with executive producer Rebecca Manandic and others make the Merced, California event a premier Tahitian dance annual event each March.

By Eric Ka’ahele Morales

“It’s a legacy. Something we are leaving behind … I didn’t realize it would be very popular” – Roiti Tahauri Sylva.   

The Show

It was an idea for a new take on an old dance, traditional, innovational, show stopping. The year was 1967, and Roiti Tahauri Sylva, a Tahitian immigrant to Hawaii, was on stage at the Queen’s Surf in Honolulu. She had a group of performers with her, all of them wearing long, elegant dresses with fitted sleeves and ruffles, tropical flowers adorning the fabric. They were to dance in front of a large audience: tourists, locals, complete with journalists. The dance was to consist of a slow ‘aparima, done in waltz time, to the song, Tau Tamaiti Here. But before they could go on stage, Roiti was asked a simple question by the master of ceremony and co-creator of the dance, Tavana Hare Salmon: “What is the name of this dance?” After a seconds pause, she answered, “‘Ahuroa.” 

Roiti Sylva performing the 'Ahuroa at the Queen's Surf
On the second show that night, Roiti reconsidered her choice in the name and called it an ‘ahu’purotu. Both names have since gained a certain resonance. The word, ahu, refers to any cloth or garment, and roa has numerous definitions, but in this context, it pertains to one complete piece of an object, long in length. The word, purotu, translates into beautiful. Each name then references the dress the dancers wear: ‘ahuroa is a single piece, long dress; ‘ahu’purotu is a beautiful dress. Both names continue to be used today, usually interchangeably.

Meant to be performed for only that weekend, the ‘ahuroa took on a life of its own. The dance was such a success that dancers in the group as well as dancers in the audience started copying the specifics of this new style and performing them in other nearby venues, sometimes calling it an ‘ahuroa, other times an ‘ahu’purotu, or simply referring to it as a slow or formal ‘aparima, which is considered one of the four recorded surviving forms of Tahitian dance: the others being the ‘ōte‘a, hivinau, and pā‘ō‘ā.