Encore Fall 2016

Living Legends

Traditional Welcome

Lauren Nabahe, a Living Legends performer, enjoys spending time with students at Henderson Intermediate School in West Auckland, New Zealand.

Students who audition to be part of the performing group Living Legends generally do so to draw closer to their heritage. The Living Legends show, Seasons, presents the traditional dances and cultures of Native America, Latin America, and Polynesia. “Living Legends has helped me connect to my culture by teaching me to understand the symbolism and the meaning of my roots,” says Living Legends member Joel Fonoimoana. “It’s helped me to become a better person, understanding where I come from, who I am, and who I could potentially become.”

This summer Living Legends performed in New Zealand, Samoa, and—for the first time—Tonga. Touring the South Pacific allowed group members with Polynesian ancestry to visit the homelands of their forebearers. One member, Filemoni Tiatia, met family in New Zealand and his grandmother in Samoa for the first time. About his grandmother he says, “She is my example, and she has made so many sacrifices to ensure that we pursued an education. She always taught me the importance of receiving an education because in Samoa they don’t have the opportunities we have.”

Living Legends members perform their Samoan number “Sasa, Lapa Lapa, Slap” for Pesega College students in Samoa.

This tour not only brought performers closer to their families and ancestors but also gave group members the opportunity to experience some of the cultures they represent. “There’s something special about dancing Tongan in Tonga or Samoan in Samoa or Māori in New Zealand,” says Living Legends member Jazmine Emerson. “There is a power and a spirit that you feel in your heart as you dance.”

On the first morning of the tour, students from Kelston Girls’ College in New Zealand greeted Living Legends with a welcome sign, leis for each member, and the hongi, a traditional Māori greeting done by pressing one’s nose and forehead to another’s that accepts the visitor into the community. “The Māori welcome was especially unique,” says Emerson. “I felt like they had been waiting and preparing for us to come, which was an amazing feeling because we had been preparing to meet them too.”

The Latin American dancers of Living Legends (in yellow) teach their Chilean number to students from Universal College of Learning during a student exchange in Palmerston North, New Zealand.

Living Legends members enjoyed reaching out to and performing for the community of Auckland, New Zealand. At Henderson Intermediate School, group members and students interacted and taught each other traditional dances. In the spirit of service, Living Legends gave a surprise presentation for the residents of the Ronald McDonald House and visited the Whakatakapokai Care and Protection Residence, a home for at-risk children and youth. The group connected with the young people through sharing life stories, music, and dances. “It was amazing to see these tough kids melt with love,” says Living Legends dancer Tiana Cole. “After [the presentation], they were very excited to get to know us. It was great to see them light up with joy and know that they mattered to us.”

In Tonga, Living Legends was honored to perform at an invitation-only event for the queen of Tonga, government officials, and community leaders. The crown prince of Tonga and his family later attended Living Legends’ last performance on the island. “I was honestly so humbled that the royal family came to our show,” says Emerson. “It really showed our group that we were welcomed and important to their island. It was an honor to dance for them and something I will never forget.”

Living Legends is greeted with a welcoming ceremony from students of Kelston Girls' College in New Zealand.

Village chiefs in Samoa welcomed Living Legends with the ’ava ceremony, which is considered the highest form of respect and is reserved for distinguished guests. “Generally, the Polynesian people are all the same: big hearts, big smiles, so quick to love, and when they love, they love deeply,” says Tiatia. “There are little differences here and there, but the principles they value are the same: family, respect, love, honor, and faith in God.”

This uplifting journey is one that the students and the people they visited will not soon forget. “We learned a song from every island,” says Cole. “In Samoa we sang, ‘Tofa Mai Feleni.’ In the chorus, there’s a line that means ‘I will never forget you.’ It was an echo to me for the whole tour of how much of a life-changing experience this was, of knowing who you are, and of being happy no matter your circumstances. I never want to forget these people.”

Living Legends members (left to right) Kamalu Kaluhiokalani, Michael Ikahihifo, Sia Fifita, and Janielle Christensen greet the queen of Tonga.