Cultured Kindness

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Stockton native rules Ori Tahiti Nui
World Championship Dance Competition

 By Lindsey Rodrian

“Tahitian legends share stories that teach positivity and hit close to home,” says Stockton native Melanie Marie Amen, in regards to her life-long involvement in Tahitian culture. “My siblings and I were born into it.”

Melanie’s mother, Yolanda, fell in love with all things Tahitian in high school. Today, she has inspired not only her five children, but the community of Stockton through their family operated Tamari’i Mata’irea Polynesian Dance Group. The group is open to all ages and skill sets, and works to bring a positive outlet to Stockton youth.

As Melanie explains, it’s common for teenagers to have mixed priorities, but “when they come to dance they see happiness doesn’t come from materialist things—you can do things that make you happy.” And at just 19 years old, this Delta College student walks her talk…. Or should I say dance?

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  Melanie first visited Tahiti at 10 years old. “It changed me,” she says as she reminisces about the community’s generosity, kindness, and acceptance. “They had nearly nothing, yet they wanted to give us everything.” Four visits later in November 2015, Melanie found herself back in Tahiti to compete in the three-day Ori Tahiti Nui World Championship Dance Competition after being awarded a ticket for winning first place overall in the female division of San Jose Tahiti Fete.

  ”It’s more than just dancing, you are telling a story,” Melanie explains. The story she told in Tahiti was that of Hotu Hiva—a young woman who had escaped an arranged marriage by hiding in a drum and traveling the ocean. When she arrived to an island, she was rejected by the people and forced to dance for their God. Her dance was so beautiful that their God took human form and married the young woman.

  With support from Lorenzo of Grands Ballets Tahiti Gbt and choreography coaching from Tiare Trompette, the director of her favorite group Hei Tahiti, Melanie honed the spirit of Hotu Hiva and prepared for competition.

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  Melanie’s expression of Hotu Hiva was so stunning she took First Place Overall among over 200 women from Tahiti, Mexico, Japan, France, and the U.S. As this was the very first World Championship of it’s kind, Melanie couldn’t feel more humbled. “I couldn’t believe that they called my name,” she says. “I am just so grateful for the experience… not even for the title—just to be able to dance with all those girls, to do what we love.”

  ”My mom and dad have always taught me to be thankful for what God has given me,” she says. And together the Amen family spread their gratuity not only throughout San Joaquin with their dance group, but throughout the world, with their non-profit organization Mata’irea Polynesian Culture Preservation which gives back to the Tahitian people through educational supplies, sports, and other endeavors. Though the Amen family comes from an African American and Filipino background, they strive to spread, share, and preserve the Tahitian culture, which they so dearly cherish. And to that, Melanie says, “I am just so attached. My whole world revolves around it.”

Join the Amen Family for Dancing and Drumming Two Times a Week:

Tamari’i Mata’irea

Yolanda Amen, Director

(209) 639-5510, TamariiMatairea.com

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