Matuni Vaiaoga grew up playing with fire.
Born and raised in Orlando, Florida, his father and uncle inspired him.
It all began from when he was five years old.
“My father and my uncle were both fire knife dancers at the time,” said Matuni.
“My dad performed with SeaWorld Orlando, he danced over there for a long time and had experience in fire knife dancing, so I was around Luau and I was brought up as a Luau dancer.
“I look up to them so I started at a young age, once my dad had seen that I had an interest in it; he kind of helped me in it and pushed me to learn, and I just kept doing it as a kid because I loved it so much, and eventually it became a career for me back home in Orlando.”
Matuni is the lead fire knife dancer for Walt Disney World and he has been dancing for them for eight years.
“I trained throughout the year and I danced fire five days a week, two shows a night, so I’m always dancing fire, it’s my career.”
Matuni was recently in Samoa. He made the final of the International Siva Afi Competition in the build up to the Teuila Week.
“I think everybody had high expectations of me, coming all the way from Florida -- there are a lot of world champions that come from there.
“Just being from the mainland, I guess everybody is expecting to see something different, a different style from the boys out here and a I know a lot of people have been anticipating seeing me perform, and I hope I do a good job and live up to those expectations.”
But it’s not about winning for Matuni. It’s about the experience.
“Every time I compete, I’m not really a big person on winning,” he said.
“I always come for the experience and I’m very passionate about Siva Afi, and I love what I do, so I just want to go out and do the best I can and now live up to my own expectations, which is to be the best I can be. I’m also training throughout the year and always trying to get better, and be better, than the day before.
“I just come here and be humble. I just want to do my best and hopefully, make my family proud and that’s it.
“Fire dancing has been great to me because it has allowed me to travel the world and perform all over the world and perpetuate the culture, so I’ve been dancing for a long time -- since I was five years old -- and I’m still going today. For me, I told myself, I’m going to keep dancing until my body says no more.”
Matuni loved his time in Samoa.
“I’ve done a lot already, I just went around and saw the island. It’s my first time here so everything is new to me.
“But most importantly, I got to meet all my family here in Samoa for the first time and they all came to watch me, because they never got to see me dance before, so it’s really special for me.”
Matuni also left some encouraging words for people dreaming of pursuing fire dancing as a career.
“You have to keep practicing; things don’t come easy. They don’t come when you want them to come,” he said.
“They come when the time is right, but as long as you keep practicing, you just wait for the opportunity to come and then you just have to go and grab it, but the main thing is to continue to practice year round and always try to better yourself with the siva afi.
“Look at me, and look at where it’s taken me, all over the world, and it has brought me here to Samoa to meet my family. If I can do it, they can do it.”