Heiata Lee is a native Tahitian who was trained and certified at the Conservatoire Artistique de la Polynésie Française (Artistic Conservatory of French Polynesia) in the art of ‘Ori Tahiti. That said, she was trained in ‘Ori Tahiti since she was a child and brought her passion for the dance to Singapore when she came in 2011 with her family.
Establishing the ‘Ori Tahiti Singapore (OTS) in 2013, Heiata taught and promoted the Tahitian culture in Singapore through dance. Besides spreading the Polynesian spirit and culture, she has also trained the OTS teachers to embody the philosophy of dance, strength, love and humility.
Heiata leading an ‘Ori Tahiti session
Although Heiata has moved back to Tahiti, we caught up with her in an email interview to find out more about her passion for dance and how it can cross the borders of language and race.
Q: Could you explain to us a little bit about ‘ori Tahiti and what makes it so special to you?
‘Ori Tahiti means Tahitian dance – ‘Ori means “dance” and Tahiti is a French Polynesia island. This dance expresses my cultural identity, my origin and my way of life. I was born and grew up in Tahiti and started learning this dance at the age of 7. The rhythm, the music and the energy of ‘Ori Tahiti makes me feel alive, tells the story of my ancestors and gives the meaning of life. I really feel peaceful, happy and proud when I dance ‘Ori Tahiti.
Q: When did you learn that you had a passion and calling for dance?
I have danced ‘Ori Tahiti since I was 7 years old. I dance it because it’s more than a passion. This was and is my way of expressing my identity and sharing my story with people. When I was in France for my studies, I missed my culture and naturally, I danced ‘Ori Tahiti to feel like home.
Q: When you came to Singapore in 2011, what brought you here and why did you decide to teach this dance?
I came in Singapore in 2011 because my husband got an opportunity to work in Singapore. I did not want to look for a job but I wanted to do what I love, to feel like home in a new country – which was to dance ‘Ori Tahiti!
Q: Was it difficult setting up at first and how did you manage to spread the love of this dance to a country with different cultures?
I did not feel any difficulty to setting up at first because I had the support of my family. I’m lucky to be able to do what I love. When I started teaching ‘Ori Tahiti in Singapore, I was just being myself, explaining my culture and sharing the love I have for it. By behaving like that, people became interested in Polynesian culture. I even managed to bring some Singaporeans to Tahiti!
Q: Could you explain some of the unique gestures and their meanings in the dance?
|The hands are closed, we pick up the flower and show it. This means “FLOWER”.|
|One hand at the eye, the other arm is extended. This means “LOOK” or “I SEE”.|
|One hand up showing the sky and the other hand is showing the land. This means “LAND”, “GROUND”, “EARTH”|
|Both hands are at the heart level, making small waves. This means “LOVE”, “FROM THE HEART”.|
|Both hands up, showing the sky. This means “ANCESTORS”|
Q: What do you think about the flashmob on 12 May that OTS will be conducting?
The international Flashmob ‘Ori Tahiti is a good opportunity to promote Polynesian culture around the world. Already more than 50 cities in 22 different countries are participating, I thought to add Singapore into the list to extend the Polynesian spirit, and at the same time, promote Singapore to the ‘Ori Tahiti world.
‘Ori Tahiti Flashmob done by OTS
Q: How do you think dance can affect one’s overall wellbeing?
‘Ori Tahiti is firstly a cultural dance: there is always a meaning behind every gesture, dance steps, rhythm, beats and lyrics. This meaning touches your heart and your soul. Needless to say that as a dance, ‘Ori Tahiti is an awesome cardio workout, strengthens core, abs, legs and glutes. This dance boosts your self-confidence.
Q: What are your plans in the future for OTS and/or the spread of ‘ori Tahiti?
‘Ori Tahiti Singapore promotes Polynesian culture through ‘Ori Tahiti. We are sharing our passion for this dance with respect towards the Polynesian tradition. In the future, OTS would like to build an ‘Ori Tahiti community and share with them the Tahitian native knowledge and cultural experience, in order to discover and learn more about Polynesia and its dance.
We wish Heiata and OTS all the best in their future endeavours with regards to promoting Tahitian culture! If you’re interested to learn ‘Ori Tahiti, do visit OTS’ website at www.oritahiti-sg.com.
If you would like to be part of the flashmob on 12 May, OTS will be conducting 3 free workshops (yes, free!) to make sure all participants learn the traditional song and choreography. No experience required and children are also welcomed! Details of the workshops are as follows:
- Wed, 25 April at 11.45am at The Substation, Level 2
- Thu, 26 April at 7pm at Goodman Arts Centre, Blk B #03-13
- Sat, 28 April at 12pm at The Substation, Level 2
Participants of the flashmob can register online here.
Photo credits: Heiata Lee