River Bend student, Nephi Tanuvasa, began dancing at the age of 12 while living in Hawaii. Part Samoan, he considered Polynesian dancing as a way to connect with his heritage. He joined the Te Rangatahi group and studied under a kumu he referred to as Auntie. Like many of Polynesian heritage, Nephi considers everyone family.
His love of his culture didn’t stop with learning native dances, however. He regularly wears his great-grandfather’s i'efaitaga to church or other dress events. While it might look to most like a skirt, it’s actually a formal style lava-lava that men wear on the Islands. “I want to represent my culture,” Tanuvasa explains, “and honour the memory of my great-grandfather.”
With his lanky, athletic build and a background in dance, it might come as no surprise that Nephi would leap at the chance to participate in a regional dance festival in a big way.
For the last seven months, he devoted much of his free time to learning and practicing many dance pieces to perform. That wasn’t enough for him though, he also taught many of his peers and encouraged them along the way as he prepared to join with roughly 1300 youth from around Northern Virginia. He did all this while serving as power forward for his school’s basketball team and maintaining grades qualifying him for the National Honor Society.
He relied on more than his own cultural dance background for this project. After studying Polynesian dancing, he had the opportunity at 14 to study ballroom and Latin style dancing for a year in school. His love of dance didn’t stop at the end of classes or moving with his Air Force family. He made time to watch professionals, continuing his study of ballroom on his own and seeking to build upon the skills he already learned in classes. He also delved into hip hop style dancing, mostly teaching himself. After moving to Virginia and teaching the “Thriller” dance to his youth group, several friends even approached Tanuvasa about starting a dance group for fun, all before any knew about the upcoming dance festival.
“[The dance festival] has been a great opportunity. I’ve been humbled and honoured to be a part of this. It teaches good skills and manners and I look forward to seeing everybody perform...I want to see their faces when they realize what they’ve done and that they did a great job,” Nephi states.
Recently, as a way to promote the event, Nephi and a group of dancers went to Spotsylvania Towne Centre and took part in a flashmob. Tanuvasa was the first dancer in center court, employing some free style hip hop moves while beckoning for others to join him.
Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes last year, Nephi has not let that slow him down in the least. Outside of sports and studies, he also spends time in SADD and DECA at his school. He attends The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and prepares the Sacrament on Sundays for the membership. Recently he had the opportunity to baptize his younger brother, Teancum, and he takes an active role in the youth group and Boy Scout troop.
The Youth Celebration Dance Festival will be held at Patriot High School in Nokesville, Virginia. Tickets are free at: http://arisestandshine.com/tickets