Pacific Island dance – the Cook Island tamure, Tongan lakalaka, Samoan siva, Tokelauan hiva and other forms – was brought to New Zealand by immigrants after the Second World War. At first, Pacific dance was performed in the context of family and community festivities, or by school groups. By the 2000s New Zealand’s Pacific dance community (particularly but not only in Auckland) was so large and active that it attracted people from around the Pacific.
The Pasifika Festival, first held in 1992, was started by the South Pacific Island Nations Development Association and the Auckland City Council. It became one of New Zealand’s biggest cultural events and the largest event of its kind in Oceania. Run over two days in Auckland, with 11 stages and 10 villages (representing Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, the Cook Islands, Tokelau, Niue, Tahiti, Kiribati, Tuvalu and New Zealand), it included food, music and fashion, with dance at its heart. In 2013 the festival involved 1,500 dancers and musicians (most of whom were volunteers), and more than 200,000 people attended.
The ASB Auckland Secondary Schools Māori and Pacific Islands Cultural Festival, or Polyfest, was the largest gathering of Māori and Pacific dancers in the world, and the largest dance event of any kind in Australasia. It was first held in 1976; by 2013, 9,000 performers were watched by more than 90,000 spectators over four days. The event’s purpose was to maintain dance and other traditions among secondary-school students.
In 1976 three secondary-school students set up the cultural competition between their schools that became Polyfest. Thirty-three years later one of the original trio, Boaz Raela, was tutoring a group that performed at the festival. ‘When we thought of it back then, we never thought about it [happening] the next year – but look at it now,’ said Raela. ‘Students coming together, enjoying one’s culture and appreciating other cultures … performing in [each] others’ cultural groups – these are the sorts of things that unite us.’1
Pacific Dance New Zealand
In 2009 Dance Aotearoa New Zealand (DANZ) set up the Pacific Dance Project, which became Pacific Dance New Zealand (PDNZ). By 2013 PDNZ was producing professional dance theatre, running choreographic labs and the Pacific Dance Fono (with DANZ), taking Pacific dance into prisons, providing one of New Zealand’s two Pacific dance residencies, taking part in dance activities in the Pacific Islands and providing dance classes to the community.
The Pacific Dance Fono was first held in 2006. It brought together dancers from around New Zealand, giving them a chance to discuss issues and strategies for development. Numbers attending the fono nearly doubled in the first seven years, from 45 to 87.