One with Our Cultures: Hawaiian/Tahitian Dancing

One with Our Cultures: Hawaiian/Tahitian Dancing


Katrina hula dancing

As a university that has made it onto the top ten list of most diverse campuses in America, it goes without saying that Cal Poly Pomona is a melting pot of unique cultures all on its own. So what better way to feel connected with students on our campus than to be able to learn more about their cultures?Hula dancers pose together with their teacher

First up, we’re taking a trip to the islands! The Hawaiian and Polynesian islands, to be specific.

In Hawaiian, Pupukahi i holomua means “unite to move forward,” and that is certainly what hula and Tahitian dancers do each and every time they perform. With the intricacy that is Hawaiian and Tahitian culture, these dancers definitely have their work cut out for them when it comes to performing.

Unfamiliar with hula and/or Tahitian dancing? While both styles incorporate strong storytelling into their performances, hula is a style more known for its relaxing, graceful gestures while Tahitian dance is popular for its fast, sharp movements alongside intense drum beats.

Katrina and her company in Tahitian costumes

17-year-old Katrina Tabangcura has been dancing since she was 7 years old. As a dancer for Halau na pua lehua i ka (a dance company based solely on hula), Tabangcura says, “The role of Hawaiian culture in performances is to tell a story. Dancing these numbers isn’t for entertainment; it’s to express one’s passion for the culture to the audience they’re presenting it to.”

Although hula and Tahitian dance are very different, both forms require the utmost diligence and precision, as every little movement tells a tale. Tahitian dancer, Carmela Delda, says that the hardest part of being a dancer “is the inevitable frustration that comes with trying to master complicated movements. The more you develop as a dancer, the more effort is required to make your dancing seem effortless.”

Hula dancers pose with their teachers

Carmela Tahitian dancing

Photos provided by Katrina Tabangcura & Carmela Delda

Tabangcura agrees, explaining the immense need for discipline in both styles and that “in Tahitian, it’s knowing the beats, the moves, and pushing yourself to be the best dancer. For hula, it’s knowing your number inside and out, the steps, and the studying required for you to tell the stories correctly.”

The misconception that people have about these dancers are that they are here solely for entertainment. Tabangcura defies this misconception, saying, “People think that all there is to me is that I dance half naked with a bikini top and a grass skirt on, like the typical hula bobble head on the dashboard of a car. I don’t just shake my hips; I tell a story!”

Delda says, “People think this type of dance’s main purpose is to be a pretty display of an easy, unperturbed island lifestyle on Hawaii and Tahiti, but not all dances are about life on paradise. Some of them delve into the hardships of a once-subjugated people, while others explain how common cultural practices arose from the belief in gods and goddesses. As a dancer, it becomes your responsibility to educate the viewer about these more complicated aspects of Hawaiian/Tahitian culture.”

But don’t be mistaken! Hula and Tahitian dance are not just about the performances. After dancing for so long, it’s only natural you form lifelong bonds with the people you share the stage with. When asked what their favorite thing about dance was, both Tabangcura and Delda agreed it was the friendships they made with people from all kinds of different backgrounds.

Both girls take the famous line from Lilo & Stitch very seriously: “Ohana means family, and family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.” As participants in a dance form that demands great cultural involvement, these girls have been able to experience what true teamwork is with their own ohana.

Tabangcura says, “An ohana is made up of the people I care deeply about and whom I would do just about anything for. Just like being apart of a blood-related family, sacrifice is required, and you’ll do whatever it takes to help them out. If you have a true ohana, loving them should be effortless.”

It goes without saying that hula and Tahitian dance are more than a source for entertainment. This lifestyle has impacted Tabangcura and Delda in astounding ways; both girls vehemently claim that they will grow old with an undying love for dance in their hearts.

Excited to learn more about the different cultures we have here on campus? Stay tuned for our next spotlight, and make sure to use the hashtag, #CampusCropChat to share your thoughts with us!