EL CENTRO — Polynesian dance students practiced their steps and movements Thursday evening, August 29, at the House Of Cultural Arts on Fifth Street.
The girls, 6-12 years old, each had a bright colored sarong wrapped around their hips. The sarong is also called pareo in Tahitian.
With bent knees, they stood motionless in front of a dance mirror occupying the length of the dance hall that allows students to monitor their own progress. Reflected light from the late afternoon sun brightened the dance area.
Bertha White, Polynesian dance instructor with the Te Here Polynesian Dance Group, selected a playlist from her cell phone and started the music. On cue from their instructor, the students began to shake their bodies and wave their arms to the rhythmic staccato music bursting from percussion instruments.
“We have been dancing here at The House of Arts for the more than two years,” said White, who has been studying and teaching Polynesian and Tahitian dance since college at the University of Baja California. But her group, Te Here Polynesian Dance Group, has been teaching students for the past nine years. Her students have ranged in age from 4 to 60.
According to White, she stumbled on the Pacific Islander form of dance while attempting to enroll in a full flamenco dance class in college. However, there was one opening in the Polynesian class so she eventually enrolled.
Her foray led her into Tahitian and hula dances. Then she moved to San Jose, and later, to Hawaii. She attended seminars in Hawaii and at the Conservatory of Tahiti.
“I’m Mexican, but my heart is Polynesian,” said White who smiled at the thought.
According to White, she also teaches the culture surrounding Polynesian dance. Her class has performed and competed at the California Mid-Winter Fair, Imperial Valley College, and in Yuma. However, her goal is for her students to perform at the prestigious Heiva San Diego, a cultural event attended by international dance troupes.
Amanda Kruse watched her daughter, Olivia, 6, dance with older children.
“It is good. It gives her structure. It helps her physically get active. It gets her get out of the house,” Kruse said about her decision to sign up Olivia for dance class. Kruse said her little girl has always loved dancing and started dancing at 4.
Olivia, who goes to Cross Elementary School in Imperial, said her favorite dance is “T-21”. Her mother explained, “The dance was about a baby who has Down Syndrome and was being accepted into the family and they still loved him.”
Sisters Valentina, 12, and Paulette Garcia, 10, were also in the dance class. Both started two years ago and are now in the advanced class.
“It’s fun. I like dancing because I like to perform,” said Valentina. She has performed at different events in Imperial Valley including the California Mid-Winter Fair, and in San Diego.
After her regular day job, White teaches Polynesian dance in Ocotillo and at the House Of Cultural Arts in El Centro.