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  • Estefania Mitre

"Oh! what? Haitian dance?" The struggle of practicing Tahitian dance.



Each time someone sees my dance videos, they would mention something along these lines:

"What is that? HOW IS THAT HUMANLY POSSIBLE?"

"Bellydance? Oh, I took one or three classes last summer."

"SHAKIRA DANCE?"

Yet, when I explain that what I practice is Tahitian dance, people would reaffirm,

"Awesome! HAITIAN dance, never heard of it."

Neither do I, in fact, I am not even sure what type of native dance Haitians perform. I have heard that comment thousands of times, perhaps it is my thick Mexican accent or the lack of information out there about Tahiti or French Polynesia in general.

"Tahiti... you know, is an island located in the Pacific Ocean, somewhere between Chile and Australia, right next to New Zealand," I'd tell them. Still, people will have that look on their faces that they have no idea what I am talking about. "Well... have you ever watched Moana? The movie was inspired by some Tahitian traditions, yet the movie focuses mostly on all the islands from Polynesia," I would add. "Oh, yeah, I know what you are talking about. H-A-W-A-I-I, RIGHT?" they would respond.

For the record, I practice TAHITIAN dance, not Haitian dance. Tahitian, from T-A-H-I-T-I, not Hawaii. In fact, according to the Instructors from the Conservatory of French Polynesia, Tahitian natives were the first ones to populate Hawai’i back in the day.

I am here to unveil all these misconceptions and myths around Tahitian dance.

"You move your hips like Shakira, how awesome, did you break your hips?"

No, I have not broken any of my bones yet, it is not like ballet or gymnastics. I have been practicing Tahitian dance for the last eight years and I was never required to break any of the bones in my body. It does require having a lot of strength in your thighs and core though. In addition to the core strength as a Tahitian dancer, you must be conscious of your posture, your back should not move while you dance, it’s a sin. Your upper body should never move, n-e-v-e-r, and trust me it will help you improve your body posture.

Does it take hours and hours of practice? Of course, like any discipline, it requires muscle isolation, hours of stamina training, and body confidence since you are exposing most of your body all the time, and EVERYTHING MOVES. It reveals every fat in your body, even if you think you are skinny enough.

Though I do not consider myself the best dancer in all North America, I still have a long way to go, I feel motivated each time I train and each time people ask me to teach them a tiny bit from this beautiful dance.

AND NO! It is not about twerking, it is an ancient dance that was utilized in rituals, sacrifices to offer young ladies to kings, but that was centuries ago. Although, if you know how to twerk, chance are it will be less complicate for you to execute some steps. The Tahitian dance has evolved and has become in the expression, the way this community tells stories and perpetuates their traditions.

Is it Bellydance then?

The answer is no. While some basic movements in both disciplines are similar, both are mutually exclusive. For instance, there are some basic techniques like the way you lift your hips by bending your knees, moving them front to back, this will make your hips move side to side. Nevertheless, while practicing Bellydance, these movements are subtle, in Tahitian dance it is not. The more you bend your knees, the better, the movement will be better executed. Also, the reason why some Tahitian steps mimic some Bellydance movements is that most Tahitian natives have traveled to different countries and they have recreated their version of that country’s discipline/step.

Another notable difference is that in Tahitian dance, you can lift your heels (depending on the style or the way your body feels more comfortable) to push your hips ever further.

Tairi Tamau is the step I am talking about, where you swing your hips side to side. Each step has its meaning; for example, tairi tamau is used to represent as if you were walking. When professional Tahitian directors/choreographers put together a show or a choreography everything must have a meaning, from the beats to the makeup, thus, each step represents different things, even elements from nature.

"Is it humanly possible to dance like that?"

Yes, of course, like I previously mentioned, it takes time and hours of practice, dedication, and sacrifice. I have been traveling in order to learn new dance moves, techniques, I have competed six times and placed two times. It is humanly possible, and it is also possible to compete at a professional level.

The best advice I can give to anyone is to follow the beats rather than thinking. There is no science behind it, there are plenty of beats combinations, and some variations combining new rhythms; stop counting, let your body flow. Never give up, there will be some styles of Tahitian dance that will be more complicated, but the key is to enjoy it and to learn as much as you can from this culture. And remember, from now on I will hunt you each time you associate Shakira, Bellydance or twerking with Tahitian dance.

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