Taking Samoan fire dancing to a higher level

A typical image of a Samoan boy performing the fire knife dancer

Story & Photo by Lagi Keresoma

APIA: Monday 10 September 2012: Hawai’ian based Samoan entertainer, High Chief Tauasa Sielu Avea has promised the people of Samoa that he will “take fire dancing to a higher level and will ensure that  the world knows that the art of fire dancing originates from Samoa and is a Samoan franchise.”

He was a special guest of this years Teuila Festival. After judging this years ailao afi (fire dancing) competition, he saw the potential in the young  competitors but feels there is barrier or lack of opportunity for these young men to take if further to another level. He feels the need for an ongoing programme so the boys won’t be stuck to competition alone.

“It can be an economic avenue for some boys if they put in all the efforts, heart and time to perfect the art,” said the entertainer.

Tauasa knows that it is not easy performing and learning all the techniques but perseverance can help build the confidence in achieving the best.

“Fire dancing is not just about twirling the knife but is a combination of creating fire and educating culture,” said Tauasa.

Tauaaa hopes that next year, he would be able to organise an international world fire dancing competition to bring competitors from the world to experience and be part of the birth place of  fire dancing.

He agrees with Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi that there is a need not only to boost but to blend in a new changes to how the fire dancing is performed. Tauasa said “changes can be done depending on the attitude of the performer.”
The performers actions and routine has to blend in together with his body language to create a more entertaining and spectacular act.

Tauasa who was invited to be part of the Teuila festival this year has contributed so much into promoting Samoan culture overseas through his many programmes in Hawaii and the United States of America.  Tauasa first took up fire dancing at the age of 16 at his hometown of Lelepa on Savai’i Island. He moved to Hawaii and joined the Brigham Young University (BYU) where he learnt more about the mixed cultures. He joined the Samoan cultural performing group and rose to become one of the most watched Samoan performers at BYU. Ten years ago, he left BYU and concentrated on developing his fire dancing skills until he became the first Samoan to win the World Firedancing competition.

He currently performs at two of the top tourism facilities in Hawaii, the Marriot Hotel and the Sealife Farm Show. He also performs now and then on the US mainland.

The chief from Savai’i also has a 150 acres of land in one of the islands on Hawai’i where he grows a variety of Samoan food and have cultural entertainment for guests. He has a staff of 40 people, all Samoans who manage the project. Some of the staff are not fire dancers, but Tauasa, being a true Samoan at heart, loves helping the Samoans in Hawai’i.

Despite Samoa being the origins of fire dancing, there are other countries now claiming firedancing as their franchise. Things took a downturn when a Tahitian won the Fire Dancing World Champions competition last year.

“It hurts me deeply when a Tahitian won the title because people then tended to believe that fire dancing belongs to Tahiti,” Tauasa confided with Talamua.

This is one of the reasons why Tauasa strongly believes that there is a great need to promote and have this cultural artwork maintained as Samoan. He also believes that although fire dancing was an offspring of creating fire by our ancestors, it is now part of culture.

Tauasa said that he helps promote Teuila every year in promoting the festivities especially in luring the peole to come to Samoa.

Tauasa has promised to bring the six young winners of the Teuila Festival compete in Hawai’i soon. His passion for the performing art was evident during his emotional speech at the closing ceremony of this years Teuila Festival.