Published February 1, 2013
Having fun Dancing Tahitian
A new way to exercise.
Ashley Zanca leads students in learning the Tahitian dance as a part of the Dance Your Way to a Healthy May program Tuesday, January 22.
Jonathan Foster

I walk into the spacious room 1250 in Nathaniel Rochester Hall (NRH) to find the instructor and our photographer. The instructor is dressed in a blue, casual shirt and a purple, Hawaiian-looking skirt with a collection of shell beads around her neck. She rushes up to greet me, introducing herself as Ashley Zanca, a graduate student in the Applied and Computational Mathematics program. We begin to chat about majors and life as a few more people trickle in to the room. Including our photographer and myself, we soon make a class of four students ready to learn Tahitian dance.

This workshop on Tuesday, January 22 was part of the Dance Your Way to a Healthy May program started by the Student Affairs Wellness Fitness Committee this school year. Carla Pennello, residence coordinator for Nathaniel Rochester Hall, is one of the organizers of the program. “I have been working with various clubs and organizations to bring different styles of dance into the residence halls all year long,” explained Pennello over email.

Last quarter, there were dance workshops ranging from Bhangra to Country Line Dancing. The Tahitian Dance class was the second out of five dance workshops running this quarter. Although we were a small class in number, Zanca remained enthusiastic about the dance, and that enthusiasm quickly spread to the rest of the class.

As we stretched, Zanca explained the culture of Tahitian dance. Hula and Tahitian dancing are quite similar in storytelling aspect and form, but Tahitian is generally faster paced. This means that it involves a lot of isolation in muscle movement. For instance, when we attempted to sway and shake our hips to the music, we tried to keep our torsos straight, tall and unmoving at the same time. This involved a lot of core work. Zanca suggested that we also bend our knees to make the hip movements easier. Although this made it a bit easier to make wider movements with our hips when our legs weren’t locked, this involved engaging more leg muscles as well.

Within the first 10 minutes of class, Zanca had explained many different types of Tahitian dance moves ranging from swinging your hips from side to side to attempting to move them in a figure eight. Zanca explained to the class that Tahitian dance was banned in the 1800s when the British colonists came to Tahiti. They saw the dancing as too provocative, which is understandable: One dance move resembled a smaller, more controlled version of the pelvic thrust.

Even with the dancing’s faintly provocative movements, it was difficult to remain too self-conscious during the workshop. With few observers and with Zanca’s constant encouragement and instruction, there was an air of lightheartedness and fun shared among the participants.

As the class continued and as Zanca began teaching the dance routine, a few more students came in the room to join in. Soon enough, we had a total of ten students dancing around the room to an upbeat, drum-based Tahitian song.

Although Zanca outperformed the rest of the class with her skillful and more practiced dance moves, the participants at the workshop were smiling constantly while feeling their muscles work. By the end of class, everyone seemed glad to have attempted such a unique form of dance.

Getting members of the RIT community to explore unique and engaging forms of physical activity is the overall goal of the workshop series. “We are very excited that people have grown to love this dance series,” said Pennello. “It is a way to get people active and moving in the residence halls and all across campus!” For this quarter, the Center for Student Wellness has planned two more dance workshops from 7 - 8 p.m. in NRH 1250: Bachata, a type of Latin dance, on February 5 and Ballroom Dance on February 12. And spring quarter, there will be even more unique dance styles to discover!

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