In her first-ever Tahitian dance competition, 12-year-old Gwendolyn Kealani Gordy won first place at Ori Fest in Las Vegas on March 25.
Gwendolyn, a sixth grader at Solana Pacific Elementary School, was inspired to take up dancing after her last trip visiting family in Hawaii. She started dancing just a year and a half ago with the local dance troop Te Rahiti Nui and has taken to it very naturally.
“Gwen’s love of everything Polynesian comes from her time spent with family on the Big Island of Hawaii,” said her mother Raini. “Her ancestors come from the old towns of Hawi and Hilo. Her grandma Trudy was and is a beautiful hula dancer.”
In the competition, which featured 216 contestants from 26 different dance groups, Gwendolyn was entered in the 9-11 beginner/intermediate class for girls who have not yet won first place in competition. (Her 12th birthday was just last week.)
“Although it was Gwen’s first competition, many of the girls were experienced competitors so we went into the competition just hoping to have a nice experience and get over the stage fright she has dealt with since she was young,” Raini said. “We were all thrilled when she got on stage and was able to perform so well. Somehow she was able to overcome the nerves and appear at home on the stage.”
In Tahitian dance competitions, the girls are unaware of what beats the live drummer will be playing.
“What these girls do is especially impressive because they have to improvise onstage and make it look seamless,” Raini said.
When Gwendolyn was called the winner, the Gordy family was “ecstatic” as were her “ra’atiras” (teachers) Janice Minabe and Michelle Limon. Minabe personally made the beautiful head hei and costume Gwendolyn wore from fresh flowers and leaves from Hawaii.
The public can get a taste of Gwendolyn and her group’s Tahitian dancing at San Diego Shaka Fest on Saturday, April 29 at Crown Point Mission Bay, a celebration of Hawaiian culture, arts and athletics (sandiegoshakafest.com). The group will also perform at the Pacific Islander Festival in Mission Bay in September.
For anyone interested in learning Tahitian dance, all ages and levels are welcome at Te Rahiti Nui. They offer cardio fitness classes and Tahitian drumming lessons as well as modern and traditional Hawaiian and Tahitian dance. Find them on Facebook at Te Rahiti Nui.