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Performing at an early age at PCC

The keiki performer at the Polynesian Cultural Center shares cultural legacy with visitors

Two keiki dancers for the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Photo by Zabrina Fiamaua Peters

Within the Ali’i Luau show at the Polynesian Cultural Center, a group of young performers or keiki, play a large role in the deliverance of the story. According to Pewa Dela Rosa, the performance manager over the Luau show, the children have been involved in this show since the Luau show started. He said the keiki attracted the guests from the beginning when they danced on a pre-show while the guests walked into the venue.

Every day in the show, they represent the children that Queen Liliuokalani associated with when she was alive. In Queen Liliuokalani's story, the role of the keiki is important because in her life, she was fond of the children in Hawaii, explained Rosa. “She couldn’t bear a child on her own, so she dedicated her life to the children. This show could run without keiki but it won’t be complete.”

In the middle of the show, the keiki need to go around to the audience and teach them how to do a hula dance. “Talking and interacting with strangers is not always easy,” said Rosa. Because of the interactions the keiki need to fulfill as dancers, Rosa said every single dancer goes through an audition before they are hired. Once they are hired, they will be trained for about two weeks to adjust to the life of a dancer, explained Rosa. He said, “This training session helps them build their confidence, especially to get used to smiling in front of an audience.”

Dancing at the early age

Viani Ha’o, the keiki dancer who works in the Ali’i Luau show from Laie, shared his joy of working as a dancer. He said, “I love dancing at the Luau because I get to meet and interact with the guests. At first, it was so scary, but when I got familiar with it, I started to enjoy it.” He explained how everything has become a routine now and there has always been an evaluation, but not hard practice like in the beginning.

Luseane Ha’o, the mother of Viani, said, “It’s really special knowing that he can be part of the culture he is in. Representing the story of Liliuokalani every day helps him understand that as a child, he is important.” She explained how her son balanced school while working at the PCC. For her, there is no distraction at all, she said, “It doesn’t take away the childhood of the children’s life. Instead, it is adding to their memory and experience from what they already have now.”

Luseane Ha’o emphasized how she believed in the prophecy that was shared by President David O. McKay in the ground dedicatory that Laie has been promised to be the place where everybody could learn. She said it’s not only for the people in the university or the temple but the community as a whole, including her son. She mentioned how his son is the fourth generation of dancers at the PCC and she loved the fact that he continued the legacy. She expressed, “The Polynesian Cultural Center is part of my son’s backyard. It’s part of his childhood that is precious. They don’t miss out on anything about his childhood.”

She shared how working at the PCC will help her son understand the principles of hard work. Once in a while, she said she watched her son’s performance to check on his progression. But she doesn’t worry much about it, she said, “Every time he needed to go to work, he has always been excited to ride his bike to work on his own.”

Working hours

Nina Fuimaono, the talent acquisition manager at the PCC from Samoa, said the keiki performing at the PCC are on a minor theatrical employment. The permits to work are obtained through the state, and they are also required to be in school in good standing. Fuimaono explained a minor under six years old cannot work more than two hours, a minor between six to 10 years old cannot work for more than three hours and a minor from the age of 10 to 14 cannot work for more than four hours a day. She said usually the vice president or the principal gives them signatures to be sent to the state and once it is approved, they will receive the minor’s permit.