By Léo Azambuja

‘Auli‘i Lu‘au by Urahutia Productions at the Sheraton Po‘ipu.

‘Auli‘i Lu‘au by Urahutia Productions at the Sheraton Po‘ipu.

Tahitian dance, known for its excitement, fast drumming, shaking of the hips and challenging steps, has won the hearts of many hula dancers on Kaua‘i. In most Polynesian lu‘au in the island’s hotels and resorts, Tahitian dance is now the main and last act.

But how different is Tahitian dance from Hawaiian hula? And add to the question every culture in the Polynesian Triangle, from Aotearoa to Rapa Nui to Hawai‘i.

“In all of the Polynesian dances, there’s really no difference. They all tell a story through their hands and hips,” said kumu Carol Akau-Casil, adding the drumming and the music also connect all Polynesian cultures.

Mi Nei Martins, a decorated Tahitian dancer who was the first non-Tahitian resident to be accepted in the prestigious Le Conservatoire Artistique Territorial in Papeete, Tahiti. Photo courtesy of Roxanne McCann

Mi Nei Martins, a decorated Tahitian dancer who was the first non-Tahitian resident to be accepted in the prestigious Le Conservatoire Artistique Territorial in Papeete, Tahiti. Photo courtesy of Roxanne McCann

She danced in the very first Kaua‘i Tahiti Fete back in 1971. The festival, created by kumu Joe Kahauleilo, would run until 1977. Ten years later, Akau-Casil reinstated the festival and ran it until 2000. During that time, in the early 1990s, she brought 50 Tahitian dancers and dignitaries to Kauaʻi, establishing the festival as the connection between Tahiti, Hawai‘i and beyond.

“Today, all other festivals you hear in the United States, Japan, Holland, Canada, stem from our festival,” said Akau-Casil, who is bringing the Kaua‘i Tahiti Fete back this July. She said 71 Tahitians will be here for the event.

In Hawaiian mythology, Tahitian chief La‘amaikahiki is credited with introducing hula dancing to Hawai‘i and also the kaeke, a large drum made from hollowed coconut trunk and shark skin. He was either the son or hānai son of Wailua Chief Moikeha, who sent his youngest son, Kila, to Tahiti to bring La‘amaikahiki here.

Kumu Leilani Rivera Low, of Halau Hula ‘O Leilani, has taught Hawaiian and Polynesian dances for more than 35 years on Kaua‘i. Her latest project, a lu‘au on the grounds of an Eastside resort, offers a cultural and educational experience in an intimate setting by the beach and next to a centenary coconut grove.