17 September 2013
We went to the Siva Afi fire dance group this evening. This is an after-school dance class devoted to teaching students the art of Samoan dancing, and especially fire dancing. It was started by a former champion fire dancer, who won all kinds of awards; once he retired, he opened an ice cream shop (named, incongruously, "Oooh-La-La") and also started the Siva Afi dance group. I don't know this man's name, but he was one of the drummers for the performance. Basically, the students are given a chance to perform for an audience each Tuesday evening; there is a nominal admission charge for us, and the student performers receive a small salary for their performance each week.
There was the traditional grass skirt dancing (like the Hawaiian hula) that we are used to - although the women get a side to side thing going, and then sort of a Beyonce-like little flick of the tush that, well, I don't know how they do it!
There were men's dances, similar to the Maori haka, with a lot of jumping and kicking and slapping - the kind of dance to intimidate one's enemies just before battle.
of the dances were Samoan, some Fijian, some from other islands - but
all Polynesian, and some people think that the Polynesian people
originated in Samoa and then spread out throughout the Pacific. So
there are similarities, but also differences, in the cultural dances.
And there were graceful women's dances, with swaying hips (but not the fast hula) and floating hands and imperceptible foot action so the women seem to almost hover around the stage. (Okay, not a stage, but the dance area - and yes, they were on bare dirt. Which caused a lot of dust and those floating orbs in the photos.)
And then the fire dancers - wow! We were in the front row of the audience, and I could feel the heat from the fire sticks and smell the fuel oil (probably kerosene) - I can't imagine how hot it is to hold a metal rod with burning fabric at each end, not to mention twirling it so quickly that it becomes a blur in a photo! Seriously, I don't know how they do it at all!
The first group were the younger kids - I'm guessing ages 10 to 14 or so. I have no idea who thinks it's a good idea to have 10 year old boys playing with fire! I've taught this age group for 25 years, and I wouldn't trust most of my students with matches, never mind a yard/meter long metal stick with fire at each end. But the kids were amazing! Truly wonderful, especially when you see these chunky little guys tossing burning sticks across to each other and catching them in mid-flight!
Then it was the older boys' turn - the guys who were maybe 15-20 years old. Phenomenal! I think dancing with fire is probably about as macho as it gets - unless maybe one is juggling knives. Or chain saws. But fire is the traditional element here, especially since these are volcanic islands - and fire is much prettier than chain saws.
So, with these photos, you need to keep in mind that this is a digital camera with a flash. The photo is snapped in a nano-second, or maybe a nano-nano-second. And yet, the dancer is twirling the stick so quickly, the photo shows an arc. Or a circle. Can you imagine how fast those hands are going to keep that stick moving in circles to create that photo?
And when we're watching, we don't see an arc - we see a circle of fire!
It was amazing!
One young man came out with a fresh stick, one end burning, the other newly dipped in the fuel. When he started twirling the stick to light the unlit end, there was so much kerosene, it splattered off in a rain of spray that hit those of us in the front of the audience!
And some of the dancers ended up with little streams of fuel burning on the ground, around their feet, so they were actually standing on little rivers of flame! (I singe my fingers lighting a match, I really don't understand how they manage to do this at all!)
One guy came out wearing a skirt of shiny leaves, and he lit a small bench on fire, the top flaming up with the fuel. He then proceeded to dance back and forth over the burning bench! And he finally sat down on the bench to put out the fire!
As I said, this is seriously macho dancing!
And of course, at the end of the show, for the final number, some of the kids grabbed people from the audience and had us join them on stage. Yes, I was hauled up to the front by a cute young man in a short lavalava. How could I say no to dancing?
So, I will leave you with a few more photos, and no more narrative. Except to say that the second to the last photo is the best of the lot.
And if you are ever in Samoa, go to Oooh-La-La ice cream and book a seat for the show!!!!