The Work Diary of a Fire-Knife Dancer, Student & Choreographer, making waves confronting Cultural stereotypes and preserving Pacific Performing heritage.
Moemoana Safaatoa Schwenke is heralded as one of few female Siva Afi Performers in the world. The 19-year old Creative Performing Artist and Indigenous Cultural Preservation Advocate is fiercely proud of her cultural and historic roots, investing much of her time between Samoa, Australia and extensive travels to regional dance competitions and projects throughout the South Pacific.
With a passion for teaching young and old Pacific Islanders about their culture and history through creative and performing arts, she instills her knowledge in seven Pacific cultural dance disciplines through teaching at her family-owned cultural center- Matavai Pacific Cultural Arts’ in Sydney. Last year, she competed in the World Fire-Knife Championships in Hawaii and placed at the 1st Runner Up in the Women’s division.
Sharing to Eveni Pacific, she said, “It is not uncommon for Pacific Islanders residing in Australia or New Zealand to feel like they are battling stereotypes, to feel non-belonging, inferior, judged by color, gravitation to western influence, or completely un-identifying as a Pacific Islander because they lack knowledge of where they come from and who they are. I believe that knowledge of one’s culture and history will contribute to a strengthened identity.”
“While I am still navigating my way through an ever-changing journey, figuring out what kind of legacy I hope to leave in the world, my strengths that I believe I hold — are being multifaceted, independent, brave and versatile.”
As she juggles Creative Performing Arts, teaching, working and studying toward a Bachelor of Arts in Indigenous Studies and Environmental Humanities at the University of Wollongong, Moemoana lives true to her name, navigating the waters of life with calm composure and peaceful poise.
9:00 a.m Discussing and researching potential costume ideas and themes for an upcoming event, sketching all ideas down. After finalizing the first draft, I had a few hours of Siva Afi practise with dad. The world fire-knife competition is in May - I can’t wait, but there is much work to be done!
1:00 p.m Working on bringing more Siva Afi workshops to Australia and abroad, chatting with people to organise venue and facility hire, as well as working on some eye-catching ads and posters. Finalising my logo for some exciting things coming soon. Then my family and I drive to Sydney
to teach classes. Driving from home to our centre Matavai in Sydney takes an
hour, so the drive is a time to either rest up or prepare lessons or meditate on
what I want to teach the kids.
4:30 p.m My little girls Cook Islands Ura Pau class begins now and the class is growing. I’m teaching the children interesting facts about the Cook Islands, my experiences dancing and learning there, as well as going over technique. Mastering basic steps makes a great dancer.
6:30 p.m- My father and I run fire-knife classes for all ages and levels at 6:30pm every Monday. Majority of our classes are girls! Trying to teach them as much as we can within the hour. The kids were so engaged today.
7:30 p.m- Our new Tahitian class I’ve been teaching, began two weeks ago and are high intensity!
I’ve been teaching the girls basic movements as it is a new style of dance for them. Most students are Samoan or Tongan. A champion Tahitian dancer all the way from Tahiti is coming soon to take over teaching the classes, so I’m preparing them to get into choreography as soon as she arrives.
11:00 a.m- Its show day today! We are performing for Sydney’s Waitangi Day celebrations. Today I’m dancing for Manea Pacifica, a Cook Islands dance group based in Sydney. Our practise last night finished at 11:30pm, so we’re a-bit tired. We’re at the venue early to support the other performing groups and to get ready. 40 degree heat here so it’s going to be a hot one!
2:00 p.m- Showtime. I’m performing in 2 drum dances and 1 slow dance. I love dancing, its where all the practise has to come into play.
4:30 p.m- Straight after the show I needed to be back at Matavai for practise, it's another big show on tomorrow. The practise went on for an hour. By the end of the show and practise I need sleep! Haha!
8:00 p.m- Scheduling some posts for the Matavai social media pages as well as my own page. Promoting classes and events on our Matavai social media pages is very time consuming.
5:30 a.m Today is an exciting day - Sydney Rugby Sevens show is on today, and the singer FIJI is also performing. An early wake up for my family and I; packing the car with all the costumes for the performers, and getting myself ready, especially hair and makeup takes a long time. Quick coffee hit and we are on our way.
9:00 a.m- Our first show and we are seeing mostly Fijian fans today. Our change rooms are directly near the recovery rooms so we are passing many of the players in the zone mentally preparing themselves for their games. At our first show i performed fire-knife, a Tongan tauolunga, as well a my Tahitian dance I learnt in Tahiti.
2:30 p.m- Since our first show at 9am we had another two, now we are onto our fourth performance today at the main festival stage. The show was so fun. Full capacity crowds full of Fijian rugby fans guarantees hype. Matavai finished the day off with best show yet.
As told to Fashion Stylist- Shivani Sharma