On March 7-8, Tempe Beach Park was transformed into a tropical island for the 21st Annual Arizona Aloha Festival. Throughout the course of this two-day celebration, entertainment, food, vendors and cultural demonstrators teamed up to give the Valley an unforgettable Hawaiian experience.
Eleven Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community members helped to celebrate Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures through dance with Kilali’s Polynesian Revue and Dance School. The group performed on Saturday, March 8, at the Lakeside Stage. The group was given a one-hour time slot to wow thousands of spectators.
You might recognize the Hawaiian and Polynesian dancing within the Community, as some youth have performed it in talent shows and competitions and local dance groups have performed it for various occasions. SRPMIC royalty who have used this type of dance are Evenna Lopez, 2014-15 Jr. Miss Salt River; Briah Johnson, 2013-14 Jr. Miss Salt River; and Teegan Smith, 2013-14 Miss Red Mountain Eagle Pow Wow Princess.
Kilali’s Polynesian Revue, a studio based in Mesa, presented dances from Hawaii, Tahiti, Tonga, New Zealand and Samoa in this year’s performance. Before each dance, the spectators were informed of its significance to the rich Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures. Each performance brought Tempe Beach Park in unison through dance and song, moving one step forward in helping to preserve these cultures.
Since October, this group of 60 students has practiced each week to help perfect their skills. The group has participants of all levels, from beginners starting at age 6 to professionals who have been dancing for years. Every year they work toward the Arizona Aloha Festival, which is their biggest recital, aside from doing the occasional luau or office party.
During their performance, the group had various wardrobe changes. Studio owner and dance instructor Gladys Nautu-Apelu is particularly proud of the group’s outfits. “All our outfits are authentic Hawaiian outfits. The material is all shipped from Hawaii and handmade by my aunts.” This is a perk for the group, because not many Polynesian groups get authentic handmade outfits and jewelry.
“It was a lot of hard work and long hours,” said Nautu-Apleu about preparing for the Aloha Festival. “The sessions for the dance school start in August, and it’s fun because we get to see the progress of the dancers as they learn. The older they get, the more they improve. They all made me proud at the Aloha Festival.”
She added, “It’s been a joy having [the SRPMIC members]. I truly adore them. I know Native American children to be kind of shy, but through dancing they’ve really learned to overcome that. I’ve seen so much confidence in them, and they enjoy it. The Native American and Polynesian cultures are very similar.”
For more information about Kilali’s Polynesian Revue and Dance School, contact Nautu-Apelu on the school’s Facebook page.