So many times people have asked me why? Why do this? Why didn’t you do that? Why!? Why!? Why!? Most of the time I give them the It’s none of your damn business look. But there is one question that without fail hits me like a Deer in the illuminated tunnel of oncoming headlights.
Why did you start the Heiva San Diego?
When those words leave their lips, memories pour into my brain as if it were yesterday that I stepped barefoot onto the To’ata stage, feet raw from dancing for weeks on concrete, my stomach screaming from nerves, and a thousand electric currents pulsing throughout my hearts’ core. Oh yes, that is a question that makes me not only remember, but makes me feel.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Heiva San Diego, it’s a Tahitian Cultural festival and Dance Competition that takes place every year in August located in Sunny San Diego. This year the dates are August 11 & 12 and it’ll be the 8th year that my family and friends have put together this gathering and event. Every year I hope to bring Tahiti to San Diego. I fail in some aspects, in others I succeed. No matter the outcome, I keep trying.
So why Lindsay? Why did you start the Heiva San Diego?
As a child, I grew up around my mother, aunties, and grandma talking about the Heiva I Tahiti (Check it out!). It was something to gossip about on a tiny island where everyone knew everyone. Almost every single woman in my family had danced in the Heiva. I could imagine them as young women full of life up on stage. Then there was my older cousin Vairani. She was the most beautiful person I had ever seen and when she performed on stage with her hair long and crimped hair, makeup and red lips, she was transformed further into something untouchable to my young awkward self. Her skin turned to gold. Her hair was spun silk. And even that stank attitude she always gave me because I was her little cousin dissipated. She was no longer the prettiest one in our family to my mind, she elevated into Vairani, Island Goddess. OMGAWWWDDD I was such a twerp! You better believe that after I saw her up on that stage I would have done anything for her (This probably made her despise me even more!) I followed her around like a pesky mosquito while she tried to smack me out of the way (and she was real smooth not to do it in front of the adults!). But I didn’t care. She was Goddess. Goddess’ can do whatever the hell they want! That was when I was a young chump. Eventually, I grew up to be an older chump.
As I matured my memories of my cousin never faded. I remembered the way she smiled on stage and how infectious her joy was as she swayed and moved in ways I couldn’t. I would never forget how beautiful she was. There’s just no way in hell I could erase the impression of the costumes, colors, and sounds as the drum echoed across the courtyard into the waters that made the island a paradise to most and a prison to others. Every time I saw bright red lips, my inner bitch would shake her head and comment. Sure can’t rock it like Vairani. No one can rock it like my cousin did when I was young, impressionable, and wanted to be just like her older cousin with the perfect everything…Nobody!!!
Then I hit rock bottom. Not really rock bottom…Let me restate that; Teenage Rockbottom. It involved teenage heartbreak to a guy who I was better off without. I stopped eating and I didn’t want to see anyone. 20 lbs lighter and disappeared from my usual group of friends, my soul searched for something else to cling onto and somehow I stumbled upon Healii’s Polynesian Revue (HPR ). They were doing a performance in a parking lot. BAM! Just like a magical abracadabra, my lost teenage soul who felt soooooooo damn ugly after being dumped by her good for nothing boyfriend, saw the red lips, the bright costumes, and heard the drum beats that made her blood hot as if she were standing in the middle of a summer storm. I went through highschool uncommitted to everything and anything(except douchebag boys) but at that moment I tugged on my father’s sleeve and looked him in the eyes with an expression that meant Business. “I am going to dance with them.” He probably liked the ways my eyes lit up with fire..but he might have hated that he was going to pay for my dance lessons. Thanks, daddy! So I dance, and the more I dance, the more I fell out of love with scum bags, and back into love with myself. I felt beautiful on stage. The dances made me part of something that I had never experienced before. I learned about other islands as well as my own and more importantly, I formed bonds with others that made me stronger. My hula sisters.
Slowly and surely I wanted more. MORE! MORE! MORE! More dance…. but especially more of Tahiti. Healii’s was mostly Hawaii. They were wonderful, but my soul searched for something that my younger self had seen; Ori Tahiti. When I turned 18 I found an opportunity impossible for me to pass up; Competing in the Heiva I Tahiti. The competitions of all competitions, which my mother had even participated in when she was my age. I WAS ALL IN, BABY!
For months I trained with a small group of girls in America and it went a little something like this: Watch video’s of a Tahitian dancer and memorize the dances. That sounds so easy. NOT! I lost about 15lbs in the first couple of months. We trained every day like dogs doing moves that normal human beings just don’t do. During training..our hips could NOT lie. Instead, they SANG TRUTH, louder and louder as the days passed.. well you get the point. When it was time to finally go to Tahiti and meet the group that we were joining things only got harder. Dance, dance, and more dance..Oh and BTW when your finished dancing, you better dance in your sleep (which is exactly what my dreams made me do!) It was so damn HARD, but every single second was pure BLISS. Even the blisters on my soles felt worthy. Finally, I had found something in life that I was willing to work hard at. Yet, when it was time to actually perform the dances, I would have never expected what happened…
My hair was amazingly big and puffy. My lips were fire-truck red. The costume I wore fit perfectly. I was ready. We were ready. Vairani, you better watch your back..I’m bringing it! And together the beats took their toll and we stepped on stage as one. At that moment I could feel the heartbeats of everyone standing beside me. Their breathes were rhythically aligned with mine. The crowd looked at us and I did not shrink back. Together we were brilliant with our flaws and all.
That night we didn’t win first place. I can’t even remember if we got second or third.. but that wasn’t the point. There were over 100 dancers who had learned the same routines as me and I could feel every single one of them besides me that night. We were one and the same MANA. Their power was mine, and mine was theirs. Happiness swept through my soul like a dove through the blue sky and I knew that after this night never again would I be the same. I had danced as my mother had danced. I had become what Vairani had once been. I had reached something that seemed untouchable. I competed in Heiva I Tahiti.
So Lindsay, why did you do it? Who do you think you are bringing the Heiva to San Diego?
I created the Heiva San Diego for one reason. That feeling that swept through my body as I stepped on stage with my new brothers and sisters. I wanted to share that feeling of camaraderie, passion, dedication, and mana with the world. Not everyone can go to Tahiti. Some people don’t even know the difference between Tahiti and Haiti!!! But if I can bring part of Tahiti to America, maybe I can show them my hearts addictions. And if it’s only one person who can believe in what I believe, it’ll still be worth it. Tahiti will always be worth it.
In the beginning, only my mother believed that it was possible. Nowadays, there are some people who talk behind our back and shake their heads. I care not! One day soon, San Diego will see why Tahiti and the islands are utopias, paradise, Eden, and better than Sweden.
Why did you start the Heiva San Diego?
Because this is what I was born to do.
📸 : Ivan S Harris Photography