‘I will keep your girls dancing’: Polynesian dance company puts down roots in St. George

ST. GEORGE — As a girl growing up on the Samoan Islands, dance was a part of April Te’o Keil’s everyday life. She always envisioned running her own dance studio.

April Te’o Keil teaches the 18+ class at Siva Pasefika in Washington on Nov. 5. | Photo by Megan Webber, St. George News

When the opportunity arose, in Southern Utah of all places, it was a dream come true.

Since 2006, Keil has taught classes and run Siva Pasefika, a professional dance company in Washington City, with the help of her four children — Dahlia, Sinalei, Tiare and Dallin.

This coming January, Siva Pasefika will move into its very own dance studio for the first time. The new studio, located in St. George, will serve as Siva Pasefika’s home, allow the dancers to refine their skills and provide a space for families to come together and dance. 

“We mimic our culture,” Keil said. “We do things as a family. We want to encourage families to do it together. We don’t shun moms from coming to practice because they get to participate here, and feel and learn.” 

Siva Pasefika offers six classes for all ages and genders. The students learn traditional dances from the Pacific islands of Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti and New Zealand. The best dancers are handpicked to perform with the elite teams at benefits and special events. Siva Pasefika’s classes have been held at various locations throughout Washington County and are currently held at the Washington City Recreation Center in a studio with no mirrors.

Even in a room without mirrors, Keil said the dancers have grown to be very skilled. At the new studio, Keil hopes to add not only mirrors but also more classes and events, including yoga, fitness classes and Latina night. 

April Te’o Keil’s daughter Sinalei teaches the Tausala class for girls ages 9-12 at Siva Pasefika in Washington City on Nov. 5. | Photo by Megan Webber, St. George News

While her three daughters and son run the everyday classes and productions, Keil negotiates with businesses and books the elite teams for performances. For Keil, dance involves the entire family. It is a critical part of her culture and something that must be passed down from generation to generation. 

“That’s how you keep things alive,” Keil said. “I knew when we moved away from the islands to here, I knew it was very important for me to teach it to them because we’re minorities here in this community and they can’t just go down to uncle’s house or go up the street to grandma’s house and learn a dance or two. It was just me teaching them. So I felt this huge weight on my heart. It was a responsibility given to me by my elders to make sure wherever you go, you teach it to them.”

Now that her kids are older, she sits back and watches as they teach the community’s children to dance.

While the kids are in class, parents can attend rehearsals and then join in their own class afterward, unlike other dance classes where parents are asked to leave once they drop their kids off. 

“What’s fun is sharing it with everybody else,” said Melinda Falaniko, who has been attending Siva Pasefika’s classes for at least four years with her eight children. “It’s helped my kids a ton to be comfortable in their own skin, where they’re at. And then they invite their friends and their friends are excited and they get to feel that Aloha spirit.” 

Falaniko and her family moved to St. George from the Pacific islands seven years ago. After her kids’ classes, Falaniko dances in the women’s class. She said she loves it not only because it provides a taste of home, but it also reminds her that she can still feel beautiful. 

Siva Pasefika allows all backgrounds to take their classes, unlike other Polynesian dance companies which only allow Polynesians and Islanders, Keil said. Keil also accepts students on scholarship for families who are financially struggling but really want to be a part of the classes, or students who have lost a parent. Siva Pasefika has organized multiple benefits for students whose parents were sick or had died, Keil said.

Sometimes, she knew the family personally.

“A couple of girls’ father passed away and I promised him, ‘I will keep your girls dancing,’” she said. “I look for these kids and I scoop them up. We take care of our people. That’s my belief.” 

Before Siva Pasefika moves into its new studio, the dancers have a full schedule to finish off their fall season.

The classes will perform at the Dickens Festival at the Dixie Convention Center on Dec. 5 and hold an end-of-season Christmas luau the next day where the dancers will be able to perform for their families. There is no official move-in date for the new studio but Keil hopes to have it up and running in time for spring classes in January. It will be located at 1025 E Tabernacle Street in St. George.

information about classes and a link to registration can be found here.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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