Fire dancer on a mission

An 18-year-old Samoan-Australian hopes her fire dancing performance will empower women and compel them to embrace their culture. 

Moemoana Schwenke told the Samoa Observer that the art of fire dancing is dominated by men and she faced challenges as a female performer. 

“Fire knife dancing is predominantly dominated by men and I face struggles as being a woman, having people look at me – and not seeing me as much potential because of my gender and through dancing – I kind of I intend to empower other people,” she said in an interview. 

“To not only take up fire knife dancing but also to hold themselves with pride and be interested about what the issues we face.”

With little to no positive Pacific Islander exposure in the media –and social media platforms contributing to the lack of the ‘tamaita’i Samoa’ sense of identity overseas – Moemoana said they continued to face challenges. 

“In Sydney, problems we usually face includes Pacific Islanders not being proud of their identities and not feeling a part of the bigger picture.

“I guess it’s the lack of seeing brown faces in the media and popular cultures – they kind of feel like their culture is inferior to other cultures – so today I’m here with Ella and Brianna and were all dancers to teach the girls about climate change,” she added. 

The teenager from Vailima, Vaoala and Auala, Savai’i is attending the Brown Girl Woke and United Sisters NZ event at Tanoa Tusitala Hotel, which is attended by girls from New Zealand and Samoa. 

Together with her two friends, she taught a Samoan dance as a way to advocate Climate Change Resilience to the event’s participants.

“Because our islands are at the forefront of sea level rising and it’s important for our current and future generations to keep our cultures alive,” she added.

Moemoana recently competed in a fire knife competition in Hawaii and is getting ready for another one in May this year, specifically for female fire knife competitors.

“I recently competed in a fire knife competition in Hawaii and I’m here today as a proud Samoan girl and a proud Pacific woman – and being a part of women empowerment and Brown Girl Woke – is something I’m really proud of because I’m all for empowering women,” she said.

“I’m really here because I face so many struggles in Australia because of being a brown Pacific Islander but dancing has definitely empowered myself and empowered others to learn about their culture.”

Moemoana is the daughter of Frederick Schwenke and former Miss Samoa and Miss South Pacific, Maryjane Schwenke and will study anthropology at Wollongong University this year.

She said she can see herself giving back to the community by running for Miss Samoa pageant in the future as well as providing free fire knife dancing lessons for the street vendor kids.

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