Updated 3 hours ago
A heavily tattooed man in Samoan garb dances to rhythmic drums as he skillfully twirls a sword of fire less than an inch away from his nose as the audience holds its breath.
Tuika’s Polynesian Island Magic, a dance troupe out of Monroeville, was founded by Faumuina‘s father, Tuika, after working for years at area nightclubs performing traditional Polynesian dance in the 1970s and ‘80s.
The American-born Samoan father learned to dance in Hawaii as a teen, where competition was hot for fire dancers.
Before dashing onto stage, he briefly shared a story about his younger days, when he was starting out as a fire dancer with a group in Rocky Hill, Connecticut.
After a show, he was cleaning up and Galea-I called after him using an endearing nickname, “Tui.”
“He said to me, ‘I take my hat off to you,’” Tuika said, eyes gleaming.
“And after that I just sat there and cried.”
He described that exchange with Galea-I, his icon, as a defining moment.
“And I still enjoy it today,” he said. “Show biz, man.
There’s no business like it. You can have a bad day, but when you’re on stage, it’s all good.
“We had the same interests, so we immediately had an interest in each other,” she said shyly.
They moved to the East Coast for a few years searching for gigs until returning to Monroeville when Faumuina accepted a directorship of their dance routine at Monroeville‘s Conley Inn Dinner Theater in 1984. There they worked for 13 years and started a family until the Conleys began selling their restaurants in the region, putting the couple out of jobs.
Two decades and countless performances later, Cindy and Tuika along with their two children, Angel Moeliani and Tuika Iosefa Faumuina, have found a niche in the Pittsburgh area. Their shows feature cultural dances from Pacific islands, along with the occasional Samoan fire dance, a crowd-favorite.
“It’s like a real island experience,” said Susan Dugan, spokeswoman for Mountain Pines Campground.
The Champion-based RV resort has hired the group for four years to perform during its weekly events through the summer and has them on the books again this year.
“They’re authentic and add a unique element to our mix of entertainment,” said Pittsburgh’s National Aviary spokeswoman Robin Weber.
The bird sanctuary has hired the dance outfit for its annual fundraiser for the last two years.
“They really engage with audiences in a way that gets people involved and in the spirit,” Weber said.
She moved to the area in 2005 from San Pedro, California, with her husband whose family lives in the area. Adleff, who is Hawaiian-Filipino, danced with a group in California and fell in love with it.
I mean, because of them it’s here,” Adleff said.
Despite being leaders of the small Polynesian culture in Monroeville, the dance team has had its ebbs and flows. During winter months, Cindy Faumuina said, dancing in the Pittsburgh region virtually comes to a stop.
The group did not have anything scheduled in November and only three performances were booked through December. Even weekly practice sessions slow, said Adleff.
“It takes a lot of time and effort,” she said, adding she and the group is constantly learning more about the dances.
The idea is to keep the business afloat by escaping the cold weather doldrums that dissuade people from partying in hula skirts.
The couple believes that element is what keeps them vital in a society that continuously migrates toward digital entertainment.
“The islands are somewhere everybody wishes to go,” she said.
“And there’s so much demand on other types of entertainment. But we love what we do and we keep it rich in tradition.
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