● By Style
Photos by Dante Fontana, © Style Media Group.
The concept of “family” runs deep in Polynesian culture and tradition.
In Hawaii, the word for blood-related family is ohana. However, this can include adopted or intentional family members too. Here on the mainland, that term is often extended to all those who love Hawaii and Polynesian culture. At Aloha Dancers, a “halau” hula school, students are not just considered dancers—they are part of an ohana, a family.
“We are open to all ‘Hawaiians at heart,’” says Natasha Forsberg, Cameron Park resident, kumu (teacher) and founder of the school, which offers dance lessons for all ages in Shingle Springs and Folsom. Forsberg’s program fosters traditional Hawaiian values, including lokahi (unity), ha’aha’a (humility) and kokua (helping others). She learned these values, starting at the tender age of four, from her grandmother, who had her own halau in Fremont. “My grandmother, Kumu Lokalia Stearns, was invited to a luau by some Samoan neighbors years ago,” Forsberg says. “She saw the dancing and loved it, then travelled to Hawaii so she could learn and become a kumu herself.”
Forsberg grew up in the Apple Hill area, but spent every weekend with her grandmother, learning, mastering and performing several styles of Polynesian dance. Aloha Dancers began in 2003, when Forsberg wanted a more flexible schedule so she could be with her growing family. “My husband, Rob, encouraged me to quit my job and start the school,” she says. “He told me, ‘You know all this already.’ And then he went downstairs and started to transform our garage into a dance studio.” The school started with a few students, then quickly outgrew the garage studio and moved to Shingle Springs, with additional classes in Folsom. Today, there are more than 60 students.
Forsberg’s training covers all seven islands of Hawaii, and all age groups are welcome. Students can be as young as three years old to 100 and older; what’s more, no prior experience is required. “I’ve had beginners who’ve never done [hula dancing] and they can do this,” she says. “Polynesian dance, in addition to being fun, is stress relieving and good for the brain…especially for the memory.”
Every year, the Aloha Dancers host a performance to benefit local charities. Last October, the show benefited the Pink Ribbon Fund. “I try to choose a different fund every year,” Forsberg says. Students make their own costumes, hairpieces and accessories for the optional performances, but have ample help from Forsberg and each other, since these things are done as group activities. After all, this is an extended family.
“We are a group that is so happy about being together and sharing the music, dance and the culture, no matter what your background is,” Forsberg says. “We celebrate each other and each other’s differences, but unite with our passion for Polynesian dance.”
Visit alohadancerscameronpark.com for more information.