Home / Pacific Islands / ‘Island Magic’ carves out Polynesian niche for decades in Monroeville – Tribune

‘Island Magic’ carves out Polynesian niche for decades in Monroeville – Tribune

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 Iosefa Faumuina is performing a Samoan fire dance, but the spectacle is on a hotel’s stage in New Kensington, not on the beaches of some faraway Polynesian island.

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.

He passed the skill onto his own children, who do the physically draining dances while Tuika plays music on a guitar or drums and acts as an emcee for the show.

“It was always the career path that I wanted to take,” the elder Faumuina said before New Kensington show.

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.

The leader of that group, Pulefano Galea-I, was the king of fire dancing, Faumuina said.

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.

Three years into his professional gig at the now-closed nightclub in Monroeville, Mauna Loa, he met his wife, Cindy — a Filipino hula dancer who grew up in California. They clicked right away.

“We had the same interests, so we immediately had an interest in each other,” she said shyly.

The two married and decided to pursue a career in Polynesian island dancing in 1981.

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.

“We thought it would be the end of it, but we still had inquiries from various events – they were interested in keeping us going,” Cindy Faumuina said.

So, the family started its own business, Tuika’s Polynesian Island Magic, in 1997.

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.

The family dance troupe performs at corporate events and small private parties on a consistent basis. Those that keep bringing them back say it’s because they’re real.

“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.

Judy Adleff of Gibsonia, one of the group’s dancers who isn’t a family member, agrees.

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.

To her surprise, she found the Polynesian dance outfit and has since become “part of the family.”

“They’re a big part of the Polynesian culture here.

I mean, because of them it’s here,” Adleff said.

In fact, Tuika’s Polynesian Island Magic is the first result in a Google search of “Polynesia Monroeville.

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.

And the practice is needed, Cindy Faumuina said. She began learning from a Hawaiian-Filipino woman in California when she was in the second grade.

“It takes a lot of time and effort,” she said, adding she and the group is constantly learning more about the dances.

To avoid the slow seasons, Tuika Faumuina travels with a few from the group to Fort Myers, Florida, to perform at resorts and golf clubs.

The idea is to keep the business afloat by escaping the cold weather doldrums that dissuade people from partying in hula skirts.

But the group’s most important mechanism of success — and what arguably keeps the party alive, Cindy Faumuina said, is authenticity.

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.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2325, dcarr@tribweb.

com or via Twitter @dillonswriting.


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