By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
Playing With Fire
Life's a hula-dance party for Aurora Napua Ka'awa
Aurora Napua Ka'awa of Hawaiian/Polynesian-themed entertainment company A Hawaiian Experience is all about the spirit of aloha, brah.
What does A Hawaiian Experience do, and when did it start?
We started in 1981. I was a performer in Hawaii, and I saw that there was a need for quality Hawaiian and Polynesian entertainment in Southern California. It ended up being a long-term production at the Kono Hawaii Restaurant in Santa Ana. That was our first show production. It was called Kaimana Hila Serenaders and Dancers with Manu Aloha [laughs]. We had a cast of 15 performers—band and dancers—and Manu Aloha was our MC and singer. We did the full Polynesian floor show with dancers, which we still do today, from Tahiti, Hawaii, Samoa, New Zealand and Fiji. The show is the music and dances from those islands.
Is it difficult to find people who do all those different styles?
We were fortunate to have people with experience from the different islands, and we also brought in teachers and performers from the islands.
Do you do events other than show productions?
Yes. We do a lot of private and backyard parties and corporate events where a whole production is put together.
Do you have fire eaters and dancers?
Are those hard to find?
We're very particular because it is dangerous. And it's very exciting. The male dancers we use have to have some experience and showmanship. They have to be a professional in this particular dance, not only for themselves, but also the audience. Without special permits and safety requirements, it's not done indoors. And outdoors, you just can't go out there and have someone light up. They are not easy to find. In our case, we've been in business such a long time, and we take it very seriously. We make sure it's up to our standards.
Is there a seasonal aspect to A Hawaiian Experience? Do people want island-themed parties more during the summer, or when the weather's cold?
We're busy during the summer. It will start in the beginning of April to the end of September. And we do Hawaiian shows and music through the holiday season, especially when we have a winter that starts early. They'll have a tropical Christmas, Mele Kalikimaka ["Merry Christmas"] parties. We'll include Hawaiian holiday songs.
How is Orange County as a home for A Hawaiian Experience?
I think the closeness . . . five or five-and-a-half hours, depending on the wind, and you could be in Hawaii. People can't get there, or they've been there and want to share the experience with their friends and family. To do tropical, island-flavored food—teriyaki sauce, barbecue, shrimp with pineapple sauce—that's pretty easy to duplicate. To have a musician come and serenade your guests or a prerecorded show with dancers—it really boosts the party.
Do you have to develop a plan for drunk people looking to get too close to your dancers?
We watch our audience. If someone were to jump onstage or jump in the middle of us and not behave, we'd just stop our music. We don't dance anymore. "Go ahead." That works. Everybody's there to have a nice time. And we normally have audience participation. We do want them to come up and experience what we're doing.
Even though what you do is for party and event settings, is there a more serious side, where you're presenting the cultural traditions of the islands?
I love what I do—putting music and dancers together and taking it to people's homes. It gets a bit more personal when they bring you to their home and share you with their family and friends. They come away with an appreciation of our culture through songs and dance. It's bringing them the spirit of aloha. It's warm, they have tropical parties, they wear their Hawaiian shirts, their flip-flops, and they have mai-tai with this music and dancing that they don't see all the time. They come away with a good feeling. A lot of our performers, dancers and musicians come from either Samoa or Hawaii, so they have this Polynesian spirit—warmth and openness. People welcome that in Southern California.
For more information, visit www.ahawaiianexperience.com.