Rico approached me with interesting news. I had previously been complaining to him for a couple months, wanting to learn any sort of dance. On that day, he introduced me to the unexpected: “Would you like to try out Polynesian dancing? There’s this studio in Whittier that could use us.”
Immediate skepticism. I had never heard of such a thing, and my subtle imaginations of the dance style brought discomfort. During the following Wednesday, I hesitantly accompanied him to the studio. I distinctly remember my first impressions of several notable characters. Upon exiting Rico’s car, Albertina approached us and introduced herself to me. She left an imprint that could only be described as confident. As I entered the studio, I was greeted by Joe. He asked if I had served in the Marine Corps, and I vividly remember the momentarily boosted ego as a result. My perfunctory excuse of having sore legs excused me from joining Rico and Carlos’ dancing. All was well, not having to embarrass myself… until Crystal showed up and persuaded me to join them. How docile I was, being instantaneously swayed. When it was the girls’ turn to dance, I went outside to observe Curtis practice the Samoan Fire Knife. After the conversations concluded, Rico finally took me home.
The two-hour introduction to Polynesian dancing was indeed unorthodox. The skepticism continued, and I was timid to join the class. Was I ready to be out of my comfort zone? It was during that period of contemplation, in mid-May of 2010, when Alohi’s Dance Studio entered my life.
The best place to be on Wednesday nights.
I succumbed to “Peer Pressure” Rico’s sly tactics. Instead of placing the burden on me to drive to the studio, he continuously appeared on my front porch and offered to take me there himself. Therefore, I was forced to participate in unfamiliar body movements, strange shouts and chants, and listening to odd music and drumming. These first few weeks were literally a blur. My refusal to wear glasses in the studio also severely limited my vision; the Mexico and San Francisco trips also caused an extended, unintentional hiatus.
Upon returning from the trips, I eventually swallowed my pride and started wearing glasses during class sessions. The awkward feelings surprisingly subsided, and both my vision and conscience transformed from VHS to Blu-Ray quality. I got a rude awakening: I actually enjoy being a part of this studio! The instructors continued to be welcoming and friendly. The female dancers were also welcoming and friendly, albeit some were shy. Even the parents and guests made the place seem close-knit and heartwarming.
After a few weeks of practice, I attended my first show at the Boys & Girls Club. It was Rico’s first time. I was asked to participate as well, but feelings of incompetence bested me. I instead sat with the audience and was gleaming with envy, particularly at the energy of both the dancers and the crowd’s reaction. It was also my first time meeting Mackenzie, and her ending with Carlos was awe-inspiring. Not long afterward, my debut performance was at the Los Coyotes Country Club. Ms. Robin (one of the dance instructors) deemed I had sufficient practice and convinced me to showcase the Maori Haka with the young veteran Matt, the flamboyant Robert, and his young son Jacob.
Needless to say, I genuinely enjoyed my first show. The addiction began henceforth. I began to (and still do!) look forward to every Wednesday practice. With my year-long strife of having four college classes preceding one another on Mondays/Wednesdays, the evenings of the latter made the long day seem twofold easier to bear. Also, what used to be “Yay — Holidays!” suddenly became “Damn you holidays — No dance practice.”
Rico, Matthew, and I performing the Maori Haka in an assisted living event.
Alohi’s has since then become an integral part of my life. However, the studio itself is simply a name. Rather, it’s the names of the people that comprise the studio that gives it significance. That gives it so much meaning. I don’t look at the people I’ve met at Alohi’s merely as instructors, colleagues, or dancers. They’re friends of mine who have made an elongated, positive difference in my life. Several of them have already been introduced, and there’s much more to be said.
It would be absolutely foolish to fully describe everyone I’ve met at the studio. To do so would be writing a complete novel. For all intents and purposes, I’ve summarized each person’s biography into much fewer sentences. If you’re a stranger to the subsequent list of people, fear not. By the end of this excerpt, you’ll have become acquainted with them to the point that identifying each individual would be easy upon walking into the studio.
There’s Curtis, one of the owners and teachers of Alohi’s. However, he is quite the terrible boss: his reputation greatly deviates from the norm. Instead of being hard-nosed, bad tempered, and hated by all, he is well perceived to be an extremely nice and relaxing person.
Then there’s the Fornaseri family, which consists of Joe & Robin and their daughters Crystal and Laura. Joe can be seen resting his elbows on the front desk, gazing intently into the yonder. Ms. Robin is an instructor and the person to approach when one seeks positive thinking. When she isn’t stressing the dancers to have straight arms, she could be seen handing out red licorice and disclosing her optimistic philosophies.
Crystal is also one of the instructors and a pedantic perfectionist when it comes to teaching, but she always finds a way to attribute light-hearted teasing into the mixture. Laura can be identified as the tallest girl in the studio… I purposely ceased my growth spurt in middle school to let her stump my height. Fun fact: I have always addressed Robin by “Ms. Robin.” In one of my early encounters with Laura Robin (as I assumed her full name to be), I was quite embarrassed when Laura Fornaseri corrected me.
Ending the show at the West Covina Public Library with the beautiful Mackenzie. Matthew, Rico, and Curtis are drumming in the background.
There are several other male dancers besides Rico and myself. Jimmy prides himself as being extremely resistant to tanning, for a sheet of paper would blend in with his natural complexion. He also sports a full red beard during certain times of the season. As the most seasoned veteran of the male dancers, Carlos has a colorful and explosive personality and has great charisma when it comes to audience interaction during shows. Brandon is an expert when it comes to Polynesian linguistics. He once pronounced ‘Sofa, Sofa, Tasi Lua Tolu Fa!’ as ‘Soy Sauce, Soy Sauce, Tasi Lua Tofu La!’ If Kawika, another instructor, hadn’t corrected our mispronunciations, we would have become part of a Samoan side dish at a luau by now.
Continuing on, Matthew is teased for being popular with the ladies, but he is an all around sweet guy. However, it would be unwise to underestimate him; he holds his own on the boy’s Tahitian number. No practice session can come unwarranted without the echoes of Aiden’s Haka chant. Similarly, the Filipino Coconut Dance can’t be complete without his older brother Niko’s frantic clapping. Finally, Robert and his children have already been mentioned in my previous blog: they’ve definitely left their mark on me.
At first glance, the girls of Alohi’s could be simply split into two groups: the shy ones and the outgoing ones. The outgoing ones will be discussed first.
Albertina had already left an impression from my first visit to the studio. She wielded a unique name and projected an aura of confidence. Immediately following her would be Kari, the pleasantly boisterous tall girl. Her voice was always the most identifiable amongst the girls’ shouts. Adri goes uncontested with the biggest smile, in which she supplements with an awesome accent. Lisa has been with the studio for the majority of her life and has a stature of commitment. Come the annual show, she provided much assistance to the boys’ costumes.
This brings me to the presumably shy girls of Alohi’s. It took me several months to remember their names, the reason being that it took an equal amount of time for them to speak out! Perhaps the least reserved of this group of girls is Lani, who incredibly has naturally curled hair. It only took several months at the LA County Fair for us to finally share a decent exchange of words. On the other hand, I became acquainted to Stephanie after my first show. All I had extracted in our two minute conversation was her name, a lot of smiling, and looking downward while shrugging her shoulders. It wasn’t until over half a year later when she and I were partnered up for the Guam Stick Dance that she finally started uttering a few words.
Courtney and Mackenzie were always present at shows. Although less shy-looking than Stephanie, the two of them also rather kept to themselves. The most reserved girls are undoubtedly Katelyn and Jaime. I still remember looking like a total fool when introducing myself to Katelyn… I was looked upon awkwardly, one eyebrow raised and all. Not wanting to undergo the same scenario, I simply started greeting Jaime on a weekly basis. With all jokes aside, the girls of Alohi’s were all endearing once the initial tension wore off.
Some of the gorgeous girls at the annual recital.
My departure to Berkeley is just over three weeks away. There is no doubt about it; one of the things I will miss most will be Alohi’s and everyone involved with it. The Whittier High School performance is still one of my most memorable shows. It was due to the concerted efforts of Laura, Mackenzie, and Kari that I mustered enough courage to end my first show with Mackenzie at the Benton Carnival. Witnessing Rico and Lani’s gorgeous final dance at the annual recital is something I will always cherish. Every conversation while driving to events was worthwhile. After all those practice sessions with Curtis’ and Jeff’s patient guidance, finally drumming for the girls at the shows proved to be worth the wait. I could list numerous more nostalgic accounts of why I’ll miss the studio, but why bother? – I know I’ll be back in no time.
Establishing connections to the Alohi’s family was one of my greatest joys of this year. Thank you, Alohi’s, for all the delightful memories!
Missing a few, but a good portion of the Alohi’s family. ❤