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Maori dance introduces unique culture to students

SOUTH POINT — It was a journey to a culture few have any knowledge of. That was the opportunity South Point High students had Wednesday when the Kahurangi Maori Dance Theatre performed.

Started in 1983 in Hastings, New Zealand, the dance theater offered the story of how the Maori people migrated 900 years ago from their ancestral home of Hawaiki to New Zealand.

Anthropologists still do not know where the now vanished island of Hawaiki once was. Speculation puts it anywhere from near Bali to China.

It was a journey that took these people who traveled through the waters in homemade canoes 300 years to complete and was one that the performers related through dance, song and native instruments.

“Maori are part of the Polynesian people,” Seidy Naera, tour manager and performer, said in a pre-performance interview. “We sing and dance and use our hands. We use action songs to tell our story.”

The dance theater is made up of 20 performers, all of whom have studied initially with the Takitimu Performing Arts School. All students must audition but talent and skill come second.

“The biggest thing that wins us over is commitment,” Naera said.

Company members are all bilingual speaking both English and their native tongue, a language made up of an alphabet of 18 letters and four dialects. In a country of 4.5 million people, the Maori make up only 15 percent of the population of New Zealand.

The theater’s mission is to share the ways of the Maori with others through performances at schools and concert halls and follows a schedule of tours 48 weeks out of the year.

The troupe’s South Point performance was sandwiched between stops at Lake Tahoe, Nev. and New York City.

“As a people this is a way to keep the culture and tradition, but more importantly our language,” Naera said. “There is a saying, ‘Without language you have no culture.’”

But performing also brings an intangible satisfaction for the company.

“The look on people’s faces when we dance,” Naera said, “it is priceless.”