Kiki Raina Tahiti Fete set in Merced
The annual celebration of Polynesian dance, food and culture that is Kiki Raina Tahiti Fete kicks off Friday and continues through Sunday.
In its 37th year, Kiki Raina is the longest continuously running Tahitian event outside of the islands in French Polynesia, according to Becky Manandic, who the dancers know as “Aunty Becky.” The three days of events at Golden Valley High School, 2121 E. Childs Ave., are full of pulsing drums, dance competitions, and Polynesian food and goods.
“It’s our way for us to keep in touch with our Polynesian culture,” she said, adding that the event also is a family reunion for many.
Manandic is the founder of Kiki Raina, the South Pacific Dance Company and nonprofit Te Mau Ta’ata Anuanua, or People of the Rainbow.
Visitors of the fete can expect to see dancers in sarongs, wearing flowery headgear. Some adorn themselves with shells and feathers.
The teams and solo dancers perform to music played by a team of drummers. The toere are long, hollowed-out log drums that typically come in three sizes and are beaten with bamboo. Other performers use the fa’atete and pahu drums, which are played with drumsticks.
It’s our way for us to keep in touch with our Polynesian culture.
Founder Becky Manandic, aka “Aunty Becky”
Judges grade the dancers on their technique and stage presence. Women move their hips to the beat with their feet together and flat on the floor. Men also keep their feet flat as they widen their legs and clap their knees together.
The dances are symbolic and each tells a story, she said, whether it’s about a boat ride or naming the parts of the human body.
Manandic trains a range of dancers, from younger than 10 to some in their 20s.
“You don’t know how proud it makes me to see them dance and tell the story,” she said.
A handful of youngsters practiced in the South Pacific Dance Studio on Martin Luther King Jr. Way on Wednesday during a class for beginners. One of the dancers, 8-year-old Yesenia Alcala, was refining her technique for shaking her hips.
There are moves that require the hips of women or girls to trace a circle, square, figure eight or go side to side. Yesenia practiced the different moves while Manandic called them out in Tahitian.
This is my town. This is where I live. We do it for Merced.
Founder Becky Manandic
The girl said she saw the dance company at last year’s Livingston Kite Festival and knew she wanted to learn the style. The fete will be her first competition.
“I like dancing,” she said. “I wanted to do it.”
Retailers sell Polynesian-style clothes and jewelry. Past events have included vendors selling teriyaki chicken, salmon poke, Spam musubi and other island-style food.
Manandic said she aims each year for the event to benefit Merced. The nonprofit estimates that Kiki Raina puts about a quarter-million dollars into the local economy each year, which comes from hotel rentals, food sales and other spending.
She said she could have moved the event to a bigger city that would draw more dancers, but she wants it to benefit Merced.
“This is my town. This is where I live,” she said. “We do it for Merced.”
The fete starts at 5 p.m. Friday, and continues all day Saturday and Sunday. Tickets at the door are $17 for adults and $15 for children.