Thursday, March 24, 2022

Hawaiian fire dance: fiery show is steeped in tradition, meaning

Beautiful costumes, magical lighting, talented dancers with garlands of leaves enhance the show
at Hilton Garden Inn, Kauai.  The fire dance show is expertly performed, with live music.



Christene "Cookie" Meyers, left, and Bruce Keller
join the company of the Ahi Uila Fire Show in Kauai

DRUMS POUND as colorfully clad dancers move onto the stage, carrying flickering tiki torches which sway in time to the rhythm.
The audience quivers in anticipation of an entertaining evening.  Soon, a dozen skilled performers will have the full house gasping, whistling and applauding. 
WE WERE witnessing a spectacular fire show, learning a great deal about the distinctly varied cultures of the Polynesian islands.
We booked our spectacular fire dance show at Hilton Garden Inn Kauai. It did not disappoint. We knew we were in a special place, where island people celebrate centuries old traditions and teach the audience of their cultures.
A dancer moves with the flames.
WE WERE the last ones into the sold-out performance hall, which proved to be lucky.  The main tables were occupied so a creative maitre d' snapped his fingers and quickly ushered us to a high-top cocktail table which had magically materialized.  While the tablecloth was laid, we took our comfortable seats to admire the show and listen to the narration.  We were slightly left of the stage, with an excellent perspective of the performers and fast-moving series of stories.
NORMALLY, the dinner show is held outside, but ocean tradewinds and the threat of rain moved it indoors.  Every Tuesday, though, the fascinating production is staged -- outside or "plan B" -- indoors, with doors and windows open wide.  Warm tropical winds near the Wailua River are usually gentle, but in times of strong winds, the threat of fire from the tiki torches is too great to chance.  Even indoors, the experience is unforgettable.
Billed as the "Ahi Uila Fire Show," the drama's usual backdrop is on the resort's Mamahune's Lawn. Inside or out, the friendly aloha spirit blankets the evening of fire dancing, fire eating, hula, sword play and more. We felt thoroughly immersed in Polynesian culture with the exhilarating beat of Polynesian drumming and a well written narration.
WE ASKED one of the ensemble what the fire dance means to him when we lingered after the show.
"In our culture, dancing can signify loss and mourning, joy, celebration, sensuality, religious worship or even war," he said.
Three dancers play out a story in moody lighting.
Many cultures use fire dancing to honor their past and teach children and visitors about their heritage, he explained. The well known dance form is found around the world from Africa to Mexico and South America and many parts of Polynesia.
Various tribes on several continents have practiced fire rituals or fire dances as far back as the 13th century CE, where the Aztecs of Mexico dedicated their practices to the god of fire, whom they called Xiuhtecuhti.
WE LEARNED that fire dancing is not actually Hawaiian born.  Its heritage is Samoan, but Hawaiian performers have learned and
Part of the show involves bringing the fire close to the 
audience, a full house which normally is seated outside.
perfected it, finding it attractive to tourists and a popular dinner show addition. "Siva afi" or fire knife dancing, is also Samoan in heritage, incorporating the fierce looking Samoan weapon "nifo oti," or war knife.
We saw performers twirl the weapon and demonstrate other acrobatic tricks that had all of us in the audience tilted forward on our seats.
EVEN FARTHER away, in New Zealand, poi fire dancing offers yet another form of fire performance, this time derived from the Maori culture. Performers swing a chain or rope around their bodies, while a weighted ball and wick on each end are on fire. Dancers make large, circular motions encompassing their bodies, all to the beat of the music.
This dancer looks as if he might be in pain from the fire, but he is
really just concentrating. Seldom do the dancers actually get burned.
The evening -- called the Ahi Uila Fire Show -- is narrated by a storyteller who gives a lively history of the origins of the Hawaiian islands and its many immigrants -- each bringing his culture's art along.  The performers bringing the story of Hawaii and its Polynesian connection alive.
AFTER THE show, I asked one of the performers why the fire didn't seem to burn -- although we thought we'd seen a couple of the dancers grimace when the flames came too close.
He chuckled and said, yes, it is possible to be burned, but usually that doesn't happen because the wicks are made from kevlar and soaked in fuel -- either alcohol or paraffin -- before they are set on fire. Then when spun, the effect is dramatic. Most of the available fire poi on the island are lightweight, and have a twisted link.
Another trick: heat-resistant stainless steel connectors protect the performers against burns. None of this information detracted from the power of the show. In fact, it enhanced it.
MUCH LIKE a buffet at a Hawaiian luau, the performance at Hilton Garden Inn Kauai is an entertainment smorgasbord. It artfully incorporates hula, dancing, singing, drums and a history lesson into its own unique visual stew.
Fire dance at the Garden Inn on Kauai
offers history lessons along with spectacle.
It's a potpourri of performance from many of the beautiful islands of Polynesia.
AS THE narrator explained, each dance in the fire show is associated with a specific island group, and is special to a specific culture. Hula comes from the islands of Hawaii, Tahitian derives from the islands of Tahiti, the haka and poi balls originated in New Zealand, fire knife dancing from Samoa. Hawaiians have woven a visual tapestry of myriad dances with a thoughtful narration stressing the individuality and unique aspects of each number.
The Garden Inn's fire show pays unique tribute to the spicy variety that makes this excellent Hawaiian performance so memorable.

More information on Kauai, the resort and the fireshow: 

We boarded a Flagship vessel this week for prime whale
viewing off the coast of southern California. Next up.
: Whale of a time! The San Diego whale watching season starts in mid-December and lasts until late April.  So we have a few more weeks to watch in wonder as 20,000 gray whales migrate through California waters headed for warmer climes in the Baja.  We saw a few whales this week -- some already heading back north to Alaska, but a few stragglers heading south. With our 78 miles of coastline, we are directly in the migration path so it's a perfect place to watch. We've even seen the magnificent grays from land, but we like to get closer via water, so we're sharing our joy. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh look at nature, performance, music, art, theater and dance, family, dining, famous cities and off-the-beaten path wonders:



  1. I'm so excited to read about this as we just booked the Kauai Garden Inn based on your fun story of the fire dance. Thank you so much.

  2. Exotic and exciting. Enjoy!

  3. Fascinating piece.