You can find a thousand taualuga siva on YouTube these days, and while I applaud the effort of lovely Samoan dancers world wide, not a lot of these performances are really great. (C’mon now… you all know it’s true)…
A few years ago, however, I found a badly recorded video of one girl and was thoroughly impressed with her dancing…. enough to enthusiastically blog about it, even.
I was delighted when, a couple months ago, I came across a more recent, better quality recording of this same girl. Check it out:
Her name, the video title says, is Saumala’ulu Edlina Toilolo, and her moves are so… old school. They remind me of my mother and both my grandmothers. Watch her hands and legs and you can imagine daily activities of village life – the pounding and wringing of clothes at the river, the picking of flowers to make ula, playing kilikiki in the malae – and she executes these actions so gracefully and with the gentle confidence you’d expect of a Samoan princess.
From the bits and pieces I’ve read about her (mostly in the YouTube comments), apparently she comes from a family that has cultivated and preserved this particular style of siva – which I love, because these days…? Well…
How about we talk first about what I like to call the “Miss Samoa” effect. Hear me out:
Although I’m not a fan of beauty pageants in general, I love that Miss Samoa is another vehicle for the preservation of our language and culture. It is especially useful as an educational tool because, since yonks ago – at least since the early 90s – the pageant has been filmed and distributed amongst Samoans all over the world.
For a lot of us, especially outside of Samoa (and to a large extent even in Samoa), gone are the days when learning to siva was a regular part of our weekly routines. I cherish the memories I have of my mom and aunt mocking my “ka_ko” legs and stiff arms as I tried my hardest to execute an elegant kamo’e… because I didn’t get to train with them very often.
It’s understandable, then, that Miss Samoa and its recordings would take the place of our mothers, grandmothers and village experts in teaching our newer generations the taualuga siva. And we should be grateful for it, because without the pageant, so many of us would never have the opportunity to learn.
Studying Samoan siva from these videos, though, comes with a price.
The “Miss Samoa” effect is when you go to a wedding and recognize the floor show as Miss Samoa’s 2003 ma’ulu’ulu performance.
It’s when the stunning – and very um contemporary – personal style of the faafafige who choreographed Miss Samoa NZ’s 1998 pageant has gone viral – you see her signature slow-flick-slow movement on just about every girl these days.
It’s when you churn through video after YouTube video of perfectly choreographed taualuga siva with no soul – no grace. No true joy. No real understanding of what it means to celebrate your people and culture with every fiber in your body.
My mom always tells me that dancing is not a shopping list of actions to perform. Real Samoan dancing is a feeling. It starts somewhere deep inside your veins and can’t be contained. Your movements are memories – of our beloved homeland and family, of our ancestors, of watching our elders celebrate – and they are as graceful and structured as they are involuntary.
See, now, that’s what I feel from Ms Toilolo’s dancing up there.
In the comments of my last blog post about her, someone said her actions were copied from Miss American Samoa 2002, Lupe Aumavae. Hmmmm… I don’t know about all that. Let’s have a look and see.
Here’s Ms Aumavae’s performance at the 2002 Miss South Pacific pageant, which she also won.
The dancing starts at 5.12:
Okay that really is stunning, I have to admit. Very nice, Ms Aumavae.
But if Ms Toilolo copied from Ms Aumavae, then she chose the right Miss Samoa to mimic because Ms Aumavae’s actions could just as easily have been copied from many moms and grandmothers – like I said before, this style is old school. Breathtakingly, beautifully old school.
Remember how it’s not about the actions anyway? I’ve seen girls use similar movements with all the grace of a robot.
Whereas the last time we saw my grandmother dance before she passed away, I counted three actions: 1. Her hands spread out to the sides like the wings of a bird… 2. One hand cupped in front of her – palm up – as if to show off the beauty of her other, outstretched arm… 3. Her hands in fists, one raised in front of her, the other at her side, as if she was squeezing the oar of an outrigger canoe.
That was all. Just the three poses as she carefully balanced herself on her frail old legs. But the power she wielded in those simple, subtle movements, brought so many of us in the room to tears. That’s something that can’t be taught no matter who you copy.
It’s something that can only be felt, somewhere deep inside a Samoan soul.
Please post your favourite YouTube taualuga performances in a comment below, and tell us why you like them so much.