Stadium Lights


Dakota Tavares-Varios, Gr. 9


Nervousness, that’s all I could feel. Dancing on that stage with the rest of my hula sisters felt amazing. I haven’t done anything like that on my own island for almost a year. The stage lights felt amazing on my skin. The feeling of ginger blossoms rubbing against my neck makes me snap out of my thoughts. 

“Hou come on pay attention, we gotta take off these leis!” My kumu exclaimed.  I’ve been dancing with my kumu  for almost four years already. 

After taking  my leis from my head and neck, I see all my hula sisters have left the tiny dressing room that only contains a small table and two chairs and  a ceiling fan. On the white dressing room door is  our halau name including my full name. Dakota Tavares-Varios, with my kumu’s name, Haleakala Sakata  directly underneath it in black. No one else is in my room besides my kumu, tutu, and me. 

Suddenly I realize that I’m still in my ti-leaf skirt and teal romper. Everything we make is handmade, often with materials from nature like ginger blossoms, ti-leaf, or puakenikeni and I get really upset that we only use everything once and then forget about it after the dance. I strip everything off so I’m only left with my undergarments. 

“Come ova here so I can do your hair already.” My kumu says from across the room. As I make my way over to her I can feel the cold metal as the bobby pins discarded on the floor touch my feet. She’s sitting in one of the two chairs we were provided with my lavender colored caboodle to her left and my garment bag to her right. 

My kumu has me sit down on the chair in front of her so she can take out my bobby pins, brush out my hair, and pin in my hat that goes with my dress. As she’s occupied with my hair I see my tutu sitting on the table to my left. From what I can hear she’s probably playing the candy crush game on her phone again. She’s wearing a white and blue Hawaiian print blouse with some dark blue jeans. 

A good 15 minutes later my long brown hair is curled and there is a light brown hat wrapped with dark blue and turquoise ribbon that feels as if it was sewn onto the left side of my head.  On the right  there are a few white gardenias bobby pinned in. 

While I’m taking a good look at myself in my small caboodle mirror, I can see my kumu taking out my dress from my garment bag. At the same time I hear other  kumus yelling at their keiki to get dressed and stop fooling around.

That’s the only thing I don’t like about competitions… the stress. 

After checking myself out in my mirror I turn to my left and see my beautiful blue dress. In my dance I’m playing the part of Kaiulani, a Hawaiian princess. It talks about her life from her first breaths to her last, at a young age. Therefore, my dress is an exact replica of one she wore. The top is made with green, baby blue, and silver strips; the long sleeves are puffed out and cinched together at the wrist. At the middle of the top there is a half circle of white lace that starts at one shoulder and ends at the other. The border of that half circle has a dark blue trim that matches the trim at the wrists. This top is then connected to a satin bottom that ends right by my ankles. 

“Omg, it’s so beautiful!” my kumu exclaims from her end of the room. 

“C’mon let’s put this on you, we only have a little bit of time” she adds. 

As she’s taking my dress from  it’s hanger a stadium worker walks in the room. 

“Number 67 just finished, she’s on in 7 minutes.” Then walks out without another word.

This leads to total shock. We were told I was number 70 not 69.
“Hurry up and get this dress on!” the lady who has been teaching me my dance in a matter of 3 months yells.

I hurry over and put my feet in the middle of the dress where the head opening is. Kumu and Tutu  stand to the side and watch me attempt to pull up my dress. I’m trying to pull up my dress as best as I can over my hips, but it just won’t go. 

“Uhh… kumu it’s not going over my hips.”

“What do you mean you didn’t try it on at his house ?” she asks with an expression that clearly shows she’s irritated. 

“I did but that was before he put the zipper in.” My best guess is he did a measurement wrong while trying to put the zipper in or cut fabric off for the zipper to fit. We could try to put it over my head instead but my hat and flowers are already in place.

“Don’t tell me we have to do adjustments 5 minutes before you step on that stage.” My kumu sounds so disappointed that I have the urge to tell her it’s not my fault she told me to get a seamstress myself. 

“Just do it instead of grumbling, she doesn’t have much time”, my tutu tells her daughter.  

Kumu then starts ripping some of the seams off while the dress is still hanging off the portion of hips I could get it over. 

As I wait for her to finish whatever she’s doing, the same stadium worker walks in with a clipboard this time. “Number 68 just stepped on stage, make sure she’s ready in 4 minutes.” 

My kumu starts working faster  with the seams on my dress, with my tutus help after the worker leaves the room. 

I feel like I will  throw up all my organs. I’ve never been late on stage and knowing that there is  a slim chance I won’t be able to get this dress on in time makes everything worse. There are  butterflies in my stomach but not the type that you get when you walk past your crush in the hall,  the type of butterflies you get when something is going terribly wrong. 

I feel like the room has gotten ten times smaller and the walls are caving in. It feels like I might be on the verge of a panic attack. The thought of me not being able to dance a song I’ve spilt my blood and tears into, hurts so much. 

“Okay put the dress on correctly. We used the fabric that was tucked in the sides to move the zipper more.” Kumu says in a monotone voice. 

For the second time tonight I tried the dress back on and it finally fits. The tension from my body noticeably relaxes. 

I zipped up the back of my dress snugly and flatten out all the crinkles. With my right hand I reach into the cooler I brought and grab five maile leis and three white crown flower leis. I put one of the maile leis on myself to the bottom and wrap the three white crown flower leis around my neck so it looks like I have six. 

My entire costume is finally complete. My leis are placed perfectly, my dress fits snug, and my hat is so secure I’m afraid it might give me a headache. 

“Okay. Let’s get going so she doesn’t come in again.” Kumu says as she’s putting on her own maile lei. 

As we walk down the hall I can see a few girls wandering around probably waiting for their kumus next instructions.  Passing the group of girls I see my musicians holding their instruments that fit into my song. 

“Ah there’s our soloist” one of the musicians says and that grabs everyone’s attention. 

All the musicians turn their heads in my direction with big smiles on their faces. This makes a small blush appear on my nine year old face for  being the center of attention. “Give them their leis, there isn’t much time”, Kumu adds once again. It feels like she’s been doing all the talking today. 

I take the four maile leis and place each one on a different musician. They thank me and give me a quick hug before turning away to set up the stage soon.

After they walk away  kumu grabs my arm as we walk to the end of the hall so we can walk out of the Hilo Civic Center into the cold Hilo air. It’s about 7 pm by then  which makes things really chilly. On our way to the  entrance of the building , I hear the music stop. This means the number before me is done and it’s my turn. 

Oddly enough I’m not nervous, excitement is flowing through my body. I absolutely can’t wait to show everyone my hard work. 

I stand in front of the entrance doors to the right of the stage, which is actually a basketball court. After the halau exits the stage, I hear the announcer speak through her microphone.

“Now from Honokaa Hawai’i with Halau Hula Helele’i Pua O Waipio, Kumu Haleakala Sakata. Dakota Tavares-Varios.”

Oh. My. Gosh. Here we go. 

As I step  onto  the stage all eyes are on me. I have a big smile on my face as I start dancing my opening number. I make sure to make eye contact with the judges and travel across the stage elegantly. I can feel the lights shining on my already sweaty face and I can smell the maile from my neck. 

After my number I’m walking off stage with a smile of pride. I  just danced in front of hundreds of people and showed them what I can do. In my opinion, I did the best  I could and danced with so much love for what I do, it doesn’t matter if I win tonight. 

“You did great !” My kumu exclaims from my left as soon as I walk through the entrance door. 

“Thank you.” I respond with an eager expression on my face. 

Now it is awards time and I’m sitting on the bottom row of seats in the Civic where hundreds of dancers have danced with my hula sisters. I have already visited my mom in the top row with my aunty guys. It was surreal to see how many  people came to support me. There were so many people that complimented how good I was that I totally forgot about what happened in the dressing room just 5 minutes before my performance. 

There were  workers running around the judge podiums to collect the very last scores. Since it’s my third year dancing at this competition I know they’re going to announce keiki soloist first, teen soloist next, and lastly keiki group and teen halau dances. 

“Okay everyone, welcome to the awards section part of the competition. We will announce soloist awards first then group numbers. Please stay seated during the entire awards ceremony out of respect for our halau.” The lady with a bright pink Hawaiian print dress says into the microphone as she stands in the middle of the basketball court. 

As she continued to thank everyone that helped make this day happen my hula sisters continued to ask me questions about my performance. I just told them simple answers, nothing too extravagant because I didn’t want to sound full of myself. 

“Let’s get started on our wahine soloist. For third place… can I get a drum roll please.” I was so nervous, I really wanted to win and show myself that all this hard work was worth it. My heart was beating so fast I felt like it could burst. The sound of my heartbeat ringing in my ears didn’t help my  nerves. 

“From Honokaa Hawaii, Dakota Tavares-Varios. Dancing with Kumu Haleakala Sakata, Halau Hula Helelei Pua ‘O Waipio.” 

I absolutely loved the sound of my name being called for the second time tonight. I couldn’t believe it, I won third place against forty plus other wahine. 

I could see my parents jumping for joy at the top of the bleachers and my hula sisters screaming in my ears. The Cheshire cat smile on my face made my cheeks hurt, I was just so happy. My kumu grabbed my hand and led me to the middle of the stage to collect my award. 

I gave the award announcer a big hug after collecting my trophy and an envelope with my cash prize.

After thanking all the judges I took a seat by my hula sisters again and waited for the other awards to be given out. I wanted to know who I was up against but I couldn’t hear anything. I was focused on the koa lined award with a lehua blossom engraved in the round glass in the middle. Below that was a title that said, “Third place keiki soloist 2017”. It feels amazing to be physically rewarded for my hard work. As big as my nine year old mind could think, I have never thought of winning an award. 

This night showed me that anything is possible when you put your mind to it. Since that  night I became a very confident person when it comes to competing and showing what I can do.