Tahitian Dance Competition - News

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“The faces and language are not the same,
but when you dance, you look just like my people.”
— Tahitian orero by 2010 chief judge
Heremoana Maamaatuaiiahutapu


2012: Once again the focus of the PCC’s annual Te Mahana Hiro’a competition moved to the spectacular Tahitian Village setting where soloists from tamari’i to taure’are’a — kids to young adults — demonstrated their mastery of Tahitian dance and costume.

It was hard to beat the absolutely fabulous evening under the stars; but, for those who couldn’t come to Laie, for the very first time the 2012 competition was available by live-stream Internet viewing.

“As a festival already rich with sight and sound, the setting of the Tahitian Village really gave it an authentic feel,” said Alfred Grace, PCC’s Chief Operating Officer. “From the visually stunning landscaping and authentic Tahitian structures to the smell of tiare flowers and freshly baked coconut bread, it’s proof that one doesn’t have to go across the ocean to experience Tahitian culture and spirit.”

Besides the beautiful ambiance, our 2012 fête welcomed back the “invitational division” competition, which featured six of the world’s most skilled and graceful solo dancers. Many of these had already qualified by winning titles in a major heiva (celebration of Tahitian culture); but after three rounds of heated competition, Kauluwehiokekai Oliver [pictured under the 2011 report] of Urahutia Productions successfully defended the vahine crown she won in 2011, and Manarii Gauthier of Tahiti [pictured above, at left] captured the tane (men’s) crown. They were fantastic!


PCC Tahitian dance competition features
senior Invitational Division for the first time ever

Laie, Hawaii, July 1, 2011 — Imagine this: A beautiful tahiti_wahine_winner starry Friday evening with gentle trade winds rustling the palm trees over the Tahitian Village as conch shells and a torch-lit procession introduce 10 of the top Tahitian dancers in Hawaii — eight beautiful young vahine or women and two tane — at the Polynesian Cultural Center’s first-ever senior invitational division competition. It was an unforgettable event.

To qualify for an invitation, each of the 10 had previously won a “best Tahitian solo dancer” or equivalent title in a heiva — a Tahitian cultural dance competition and festival — in Hawaii or on the U.S. mainland.



For the next several hours the audience experienced fantastic Tahitian dancing and drumming. Each contestant performed three times: In the first set they demonstrated their mastery of at least five of eight traditional moves. In the second set the dancers shared their own creative choreography; and in the third they had to exhibit their versatility by extemporaneously dancing to previously unheard rhythms that the drummers generated. Most of the dancers changed their colorful costumes and headdresses between sets.




Several hours later the judges selected:

  • Kauluwehiokalani Oliver [pictured above at right] of Urahutia Productions as the first Grand Champion Tahitian Female Solo Dancer.

  • Keawe McArthur [pictured above at left] of Maohi Nui as the first Grand Champion Tahitian Male Solo Dancer.

Other participants in the invitational division included Mele Kodama of Heretamanui; Chazelle Macangus of Maohi Nui; Heather José of Te Vai Ura Nui; Chelsea Clement of Manutahi; Teresa Bringas of Te Ora Tahiti Nui, and Keanu Neill-mesiona of Manutahi.

Tamarii and taure’are’a dancers
compete for age bracket and overall titles

Saturday, July 2, 2011 —The next morning hundreds of parents and fans came together in the PCC’s Pacific Theater to watch dozens of tamarii or children ages 3–12 and taure’are’a ages 13–18 demonstrate their ownskills in Tahiti_boyTahitian dancing.

The little ones were so cute, but it was also easy to see that their skills quickly became more impressive with just a few years experience. The Tahitian drumming was infectious, the costumes and accessories colorful, and their dancing was terrific. If that wasn’t enough, the PCC snack bar served a Tahitian plate lunch that included banana po’e — a kind of sweet poi, as well as poisson cru — Tahitian-style raw fish marinated in coconut cream and lemon juice.

Each age division entrant performed three times in front of the judges, then the age division winners in the tamari’i and taure’are’a categories danced off together, and when the drums finally stopped overall titles went to:

  • Overall Vahine Taure’are’a winner: Cailin-Tiana Sabado of Pupu Ote Iti Ra

  • Overall Tane Taure’are’a winner: Brayden-Tyler Agpaoa of Pupu Ote Iti Ra

  • Overall Vahine Tamari’i winner: Breeze-Makana Agpaoaof Pupu Ote Iti Ra

  • Overall Tane Tamari’i winner: Lohiau Kinimaka-Guillory of Maohi Nui


As the scores were being tallied, the junior members of the Pearl City-based Here Tama Nui — led by brothers Allen and Chris Ramento, as well as the group Oriata put on exhibitions.

See the other 2011 and past winners…


Te Mahana Hiro’a Tumu o Tahiti
PCC 10th annual Tahitian solo dance competition

The event started right on time, and included hours of lively Tahitian dancing, toere drumming and incredibly beautiful costumes.

When it was all over, the three judges awarded age-group prizes and then named four overall winners:

  • Heather Malia José of Ewa Beach, Te Vai Ura Nui, senior vahine (women)
  • L J Mariteragi of Laie, Nonosina Hawaii, senior tane (men)
  • Cassandra Kanoho of Ewa Beach, Te Vai Ura Nui, junior vahine
  • Mykle Keni of Laie, Nonosina Hawaii, junior tane

For a complete list of 2010 winners...

The judges agreed. In his opening orero or oratory, chief judge Heremoana Maamaatuaiiahutapu, Director of Te Fare Tauhiti Nui (House of Culture) in Papeete and a cultural advisor to Mariteragi, said of the approximately 100 competitors, “The faces and language are not the same, but when you dance, you look just like my people.”

Mahana Mo’o Pulotu, another of the three judges for this year’s event — and one of the Polynesian Cultural Center’s original Tahitian dancers who retired about three years ago, said she was “thrilled with the progress many of the kids have made... It’s wonderful as I see our kids keep my culture alive."

Solo winners three-peat
in PCC's 2008 Tahitian dance competition


Over 100 tamari'i (children ages 3-11) and taure'are'a (youth ages 12-18) competed in the Polynesian Cultural Center's eighth annual Te Mahana Hiro'a o Tahiti solo dance competition on July 5, marking another great heiva or fête — a celebration of Tahitian culture — at the PCC.

As they did last year and the year before that, Chelsea Clement of Te'e'a o te Turama dance school took the overall tamahine or female championship in the taure'are'a division (ages 12-18), as well as tops in the 14-15 category; and L.J. Mariteragi of the Nonosina Hawaii school claimed the overall tamaroa crown for the taure'are'a as well as first in the 16-18 boys category. Shandy Hopeau of the Tiare Ura O Tahiti school was the overall winner in the girls division (ages 3-11) as well as first in the 9-11 category; and Jordan Mariteragi of the Nonosina Hawaii school won the overall tamari'i boys title and came in first in the 9-11 bracket. For all the 2008 and past year results...

Of course, proud parents, grandparents, dance school classmates and fans of Tahitian dancing formed an appreciative audience in the PCC's Pacific Theater as all contestants — adorned in fabulous costumes and accoutrements — went through their routines.

Indeed, the level of family support for such events is impressive. For example, Elizza Prazt Keni  who is originally from Australia and now lives in Laie, said she entered three of her children in the event: Michael, 6, Natalie, 4, and Dakota, 2, partially because she was a PCC dancer in the mid-90s, while husband Bill Keni danced at the Center from high school through college.

"My grandmother is also a professional dancer, my dad took dancing, I took dancing; and even though it was ballet, ballroom and jazz, because we live here we love this form of dancing. I cry when I see them on this stage. This is part of their culture. Seeing my kids dance, they learn such confidence and how to hold themselves, and it's something I think they'll treasure."


The action on stage started with an exhibition by the one- and two-year-olds, then moved into the real competition with the three and four-year-olds. "They're so cute," said PCC emcee Cy Bridges. "Some of them didn't shake too much, but one of them said, 'I don't want to give too much away until later.'"

In typical Tahitian dance competition style, the entrants not only had to be physically adept but mentally flexible as the drummers — who always add to the excitement — created new rhythms of varying lengths each time.

Raymond Mariteragi, the Cultural Center's Tahitian cultural specialist and coordinator of the fête, agreed: "It takes a lot for these tamari'i to get up onstage by themselves to perform in front of hundreds of people, and their passion is an inspiration. What inspires me even more is seeing the next generation show their appreciation and understanding of the Tahitian culture."

The 2008 judges agreed: Jeanne Larsen, who has judged the PCC fête for six years, said she's "amazed at the love of the people here for Tahitian culture. Every year they're getting better and better, and Tahitian dancing is getting very popular here on the island and in the United States."


Asked how the dancing in Hawaii compares to back in Tahiti, Mme. Larsen added, "Those Tahitians in Tahiti better watch out, because these dancers are amazing."

Hutia Kaanapu, a former PCC dancer in the 1970s who has judged U.S. mainland competitions before, returned to Laie to serve as a judge for the first time in the Center's competition. Hutia said, "I am so pleased to be here. It's like coming home. To come back and see my friends daughters and sons is really amazing."

Chief judge Hatota (Hagoth) Tehiva, who danced at the PCC in 1988, said the dancers reminded him of home, "and it also gives a new generation the opportunity to perform." Tehiva has also judged at the Heiva i Honolulu.

For the past five years Mariteragi's son, Jon Raymond Mariteragi, has taught the Nonosina Hawaii school under the umbrella of his mother's Hawaiian hula school, Napuananionapalionakoolau, along with his wife, Tiani — whose family has run the Nonosina school in California for about 40 years. He said he hopes the kids "through Tahitian culture get excited and want to learn more about all cultures"; and added that a lot of them have gone on to work at the PCC.


David Tiave, a production specialist at the PCC, said he was "impressed to see how the kids are trained from a young age. It makes our job easier, because hopefully they'll come and apply to dance for us some day. Although there are different schools and styles, they're well trained and they all come with strong basics. In fact, every year I'm surprised at how very good they are. You don't even see adults doing some of the things some of these kids are doing."

Tiave pointed out that this year's competition with 116 solo contestants, might have drawn fewer entrants than previous years because of similar competitions at the same time on the U.S. mainland.

Bridges thanked all who supported the PCC's 2008 Tahiti fete, especially the judges for their "passion and love for the culture, the language, the dance and the arts of Tahiti. They have dedicated their lives in learning, teaching and sharing, including their time to be here with us today."

"It's all about teaching and preserving our cultures," said Bridges. "We're so fortunate to have great teachers here, and some second and third-generation dances, many of them part-Tahitian."

— Story and photos by
special correspondent and PCC alum Mike Foley

The 2007 fête:

Over 1,000 parents, dancers and friends of Tahitian culture filled the lower levels of the Polynesian Cultural Center's Pacific Theater to watch dozens of tamari'i (children) and taure'are'a (youth) solo semifinalists from eight different schools spread across Oahu and even from California compete for prizes in the PCC's seventh annual Te Mahana Hiro'a o Tahiti children's Tahitian dance competition.

Winner girls

In a word, they were terrific. The level of skill, even in dancers only three years old, was exceptional. The costuming was equally as impressive, and the drum corps kept everybody's toes tapping to the beat.

"Are these five and six-year-olds?" PCC emcee Cy Bridges asked during that category in the finals competition. "I saw some 18-year-old moves there." Later, he asked, "Do you think they have the same energy at home when they're cleaning their room or the yard?" The audience laughed.

Bridges' co-emcee, Mahana Mo'o Pulotu — who recently retired after working at the Cultural Center for many years and is one of the original PCC Tahitian dancers — explained, "Many of these kids started dancing when they were two years old."

Then the three competing groups came on — Te Hamata and Nonosina Hawaii, both based in Laie, and Ote'a Kia Mana fr om Mililani, Oahu — which definitely kicked up the excitement and crowd appreciation. The creative choreography and skills of the ra'atira or leaders — Penny and Viliami Toilolo, John Raymond and Tiani Mariteragi, and Dennis Kia, respectively — generated some of the best young Tahitian dancing I've ever seen (and I've been watching it for 40 years)...and that's not just my thinking, either.


Spencer Kamauoha, general manager of the Photo Polynesia concession at the PCC who has photographed thousands of Tahitian dancers over the past 22 years, including every single Te Mahana Hiro'a o Tahiti competition, said, "It's been a wonderful competition. This is probably the best attended and the most participants I've seen since the beginning of the program. It's great to see so many young kids are taking up Tahitian dancing."

Therese Cummings, a BYU-Hawaii dormitory "mother" and original PCC dancer who is originally from Raiatea, French Polynesia, said, "I was very pleased to see the competition. Our Tahitian community, we talk about it, and as I observed it today, I was very happy. The instructors are doing the right thing, and it's really beautiful."

She added she's also happy that so many non-Tahitians are learning Tahitian dancing. "PCC is a place where we share our culture," she said. "That's also the beauty of it."

Nonosina Wins

Kura Tovey, a Marquesan originally from Hiva Oa who is a former PCC Tahitian dancer — and whose husband, David Tovey, is PCC Tahitian village manager, said this year's competition "was awesome. I saw a lot of new faces at the solo competition last night, and this morning the soloists were amazing. I'm also glad there were a lot of groups today."

"Overall, the quality of the dancing is really good," she said. "I was joking with my husband they're dancing better than in your village. I'm happy that a lot of people like Tahitian culture, and it's growing."

Jeanne Mou'a Larsen, a judge this year and also in 2005, shared similar comments: "I've seen great improvement, and more kids participating [this time]. It's amazing to see how you're keeping Tahitian culture alive out here."

"Our young people are going a great job," Bridges agreed. "Thank you all for your passion for Tahitian culture."

That's it for another year of the Polynesian Cultural Center's Children's Tahitian Dance Competition. If you missed it, join us next year. Maururu (thanks).

— by special correspondent and PCC alum Mike Foley

See the results of the 2007 competition...

Watch videos from the competition: Nonosina Hawaii , Ote'a Kia Mana , Te Hamata.

177 Tamari'i Soloists Compete in PCC's Tahiti Fκte

Laie, Hawaii, July 6, 2007: Ranging from ages 2-18, 177 tamari'i or children from all over the island of Oahu and even California entered the Polynesian Cultural Center children's dance competition that started this evening as part of the PCC's seventh annual Te Mahana Hiro'a o Tahiti cultural festival.

A panel of four judges — all originally from Tahiti and noted for their rich experience in Tahitian dance — named semifinal winners in various age categories at the end of the sold-out event, which was held in the Hale Aloha luau theater starting at 8 p.m. The semifinalists competed in the finals, which were held in the PCC's Pacific Theater on Saturday, July 7.

Tahiti girl

"In their own right, they are giants in their areas of expertise," said emcee Cy Bridges of this year's judges. "This has been a life-long passion for them."

Dancers from three different schools will also compete as groups in the July 7 event.

The audience, comprised of family members of the entrants and fans of Tahitian dance, were very vocal in support of their respective tamari'i and taure'are'a or youth . . . as Mahana Mo'o Pulotu, the other emcee and one of the PCC's original Tahitian dancers in 1963 who recently retired, and Bridges introduced each group of competitors.

From the youngest to the 18-year-olds, the level of competition was very high. In one case, for example, the judges called back a group of young girls because there was an eight-way tie for one semi-final position. "I wouldn't want to be a judge tonight," said Pulotu, who actually has helped judge some of the past events.


She explained that Tahitian dancing was somewhat different when she was one of the original student performers who helped open the PCC in October 1963. "A lot of changes have taken place since then. For example, we didn't do so much side-to-side movement, and we kept our feet flat on the ground. There's also a whole lot more shaking now days, but I like it."

The costuming was also outstanding, especially the wide variety of elaborate headdresses, many of which featured feathers, shells, raffia, ti leaves, Tahitian gardenia, and more. The tamari'i and taure'are'a obviously put in a lot of practice time, but so did the parents and ra'atira or leaders, and it showed all night long.

Maururu roa — thank you very much.

— By special correspondent and PCC alum Mike Foley

The 2006 fête:

2006 was a night and a day full of the best young Tahitian dancers in Hawaii, and the crowd was filled with proud participants, family and friends. Even the judges were impressed, as Etua Tahauri, one of our frequent judges put it, "it's great to see more participation and more efforts here for this event. There is good talent and I'm so glad that the children starting at these ages will get better as they get older. It was also nice to have the outside groups partipate and be welcomed."

Click here for more information about the 2006 winners.

The 2005 fête:

Four dancers with strong family ties to the Polynesian Cultural Center each won $100 overall prizes in the PCC's fifth annual Te Mahana Hiro'a o Tahiti solo dance competition on July 15-16, 2005:

Sisters Luçie and Kiana Wilson took top honors respectively in the taure'are'a (youth ages 12-18) and tamari'i (children ages 3-11) girls divisions, while Toa Leiataua and Kameron Ho Ching won their respective boys division overall titles.

All four dancers are associated with the Laie-based Nonosina Hawaii dance school, headed by John and Tehani Mariteragi.

The Wilson girls — the daughters of former PCC featured dancer Patricia Hutihuti Wilson, and Christian Wilson of Laie — have been dancing virtually since the time they could walk. Both are honor students at Kahuku High and Intermediate School. In addition, Christian and Patricia Wilson own and operate Treasures of Tahiti, a Tahitian gift shop at the Polynesian Cultural Center that has sponsored the annual cultural festival since its inception.


Luçie Wilson, Nonosina Hawaii
Click to see video of winners.
(may take a minute to download)

Leiataua's parents also previously worked at the Polynesian Cultural Center as BYU-Hawaii student and Ho Ching's father is the PCC's Director of Westbound Sales.  

PCC senior manager Ellen Gay Dela Rosa, who oversaw the competition, said she was "overwhelmed with the support of all the dancers' parents. In the spirit of the dance they really came out. They said they loved it at the Center, and it's been a wonderful festival."

Raymond Mariteragi, Director of Cultural Islands at the Center who oversees the French Polynesian villages of Tahiti and the Marquesas, and is the father of John Mariteragi, said this year's event was "wonderful, and the excitement was there. I've already made arrangements, so next year we expect three or four groups from Tahiti to join us."

Though she's been dancing for years and is currently a part-time member of the PCC promo team that travels around the world sharing Polynesian culture, Luçie Wilson, 16, said this was her first time to enter the competition. "I'm grateful for my teachers, John and Tehani Mariteragi, for supporting and encouraging me throughout my dancing career. I'm also grateful for my parents and I appreciate all they do."

She added she hopes to open her own dance school some day. "I love dancing and I hope the Tahitian spirit will stay alive forever," Luçie said.

Click here for further results.






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