Dancing at the Polynesian Cultural Center since she was 4 years old, Indigo Tetuaapua now plays the lead role of Lani in the Center’s evening show, Hā: Breath of Life. As both her parents and even her great-grandmother performed at the Center, Tetuaapua said her life revolves around the PCC.
Where it all started
Tetuaapua, a sophomore from Laie, Hawaii, majoring in political science, said she started performing the Tahitian and Hula dances at the PCC when she was child. She said she continued to dance when her family moved to Tahiti when she was 5. However, when she moved back to Hawaii at the age of 8, she stopped dancing and focused on doing other things like gymnastics and playing a piano.
She shared her desire to dance was revived when she visited some family members in Tahiti in the summer of 2015. During the visit, they watched part of a Tahitian competition called the Heiva. Watching the show, she said, triggered some memories of how much she used to love dancing.
Tetuaapua commented, “When I came back to Hawaii, I started to look for places where I could practice and eventually there was a job opening for a dancer position at the PCC.”
She said she now performs at the PCC’s evening show, Hā: Breath of Life, and dances at the Luau once a week. Before the pandemic, she also worked at the Tahitian Village and the Huki canoe show.
Dancing in Hā: Breath of Life
At work, before the Night Show starts, Tetuaapua said they would review their line-up for each section of the show. “With COVID-19 going on, everybody needs to be there because if someone’s not there, then we are short. We don’t have anyone to fill in, so it’s really important people are there.”
She said after they go over their line-ups, they are given a little break to pre-set their costumes backstage. At 7 p.m., she said, the manager, supervisors, and even sometimes the PCC president, share how they can improve the show and what they look forward to. The show officially starts at 7:27 p.m., she added.
After the performance, Tetuaapua said they are no longer allowed to interact with the guests as they used to before the pandemic hit. “We miss that personal connection with the audience,” she expressed.
When the dancers could interact with the guests at the end of the show, Tetuaapua said she would always look for the children in the audience because their high spirits she loves to see.
The greatest thing about being a dancer, Tetuaapua said, is seeing little children and even some adults in the audience who have “childlike eyes” as they watch the show. “They look at you with awe and amazement, [and] that’s the look I look for. It’s really motivating to see that kind of look, and that is why I love dancing.”
Inspiring fellow dancers
Leila Tuinei, a junior from American Samoa studying marketing, is a good friend and co-dancer of Tetuaapua. Although Tetuaapua just started playing the lead role of Lani, Tuinei said she has done so well.
Tetuaapua said, “Playing [Lani] is much more difficult than you think.” As Lani, she has to perform different versions of her character in different cultures, such as Samoan, Fijian and Tahitian, she explained. “If I want to get a very deep understanding of Lani, I have to really understand the differences between each culture,” Tetuaapua said.
Tuinei described her friend as a proficient dancer and said she has a good on-stage presence. “There’s a point in the show where Lani has this solo in the Tahiti section and Tetuaapua just kills it every time.” She is perfect for the lead role, Tuinei said.
“I’d say she’s one of the best Tahitian dancers at the PCC right now. … I always look up to her in dancing. I always try to model my Tahitian dancing after her because she’s such a good dancer,” Tuinei added.
Atea Lee Chip Sao, a sophomore from Tahiti majoring in TESOL, is a cousin and co-dancer of Tetuaapua. He said, “She gives her 100 percent every time, whether during a rehearsal or the full show, and that is something that I really admire.”
Lee Chip Sao said they received good reviews of Tetuaapua’s performance as Lani from their bosses and fellow dancers. He said he knows she is a good dancer because she knows what can be refined in performances.
“She’s passionate about dancing. She always tells me she always wants to learn and improve. I will always find her somewhere rehearsing,” Lee Chip Sao commented. Tetuaapua would even invite him to practice outside of work, he added.
Before the pandemic, the dancers would have Tahitian basics practice every Tuesday, she shared. Since the spread of COVID-19, however, they are going without this additional practice. Jon Mariteragi, one of the supervisors at Night Show, is in charge of the Tahiti section. He said he believes if the dancers committedly practice once a week, they will continue to get better.
Inspired by family
Tetuaapua said her family is what inspires her to dance. Coming from a long line of PCC dancers, she said her mother used to work in the Hawaiian Village, and her father worked in the Tahitian Village, Night Show and even the Marquesas Village when it was still open. Her great-grandmother also performed at the PCC, she added. “I love dancing. It’s a way for me to really express what I feel,” Tetuaapua shared.