Weekend Sun   

Putting their best foot forward

Tauranga Special School students rehearsing for their performance at Pasifika Festival in the Bay next week.

Tauranga Special School students will be dancing in front of thousands for the first time next week at the Pasifika Festival in the Bay.

A group of 33 students ranging in age from 5-18 will be braving the crowds and performing Samoan dances Siva and Sasa.

"The school coming on board and wanting to be part of the festival is how we are as Pacific Island people - all-inclusive. It's awesome they are getting involved," says event manager Melanie Cottingham.

Excitement and nerves bounce around the classroom where the group are rehearsing, students saying they are more than ready to take the stage.

“I am a little bit nervous about standing up on stage and watching all my family and friends, but I'm excited,” says intermediate level student Emelia.

Pasifika Festival in the Bay has been running for five years now, celebrating the range of unique cultures that make up the Pacific Islands.

Tauranga Special School teacher Cat Banks is over the moon that they are performing in the festival for the first time this year.

"We want to be part of the community, and it's really exciting to be able to do that in a way that gives us a real sense of belonging."

She says the school's involvement is essential in educating students about Pasifika culture.

"It's so important the Pasifika students know about their own culture, and other students need to have that understanding as well."

Students have been practising their moves for 10 weeks now and Cat says those involved have "really come to the party”.

About 25 other school groups will be performing alongside Tauranga Special School at the volunteer-run festival.

Organisers estimate there will be about 2000 performers dancing.

Groups will represent nations from all over the Pacific including Samoa, Niue, Tonga, Kiribati, Cook Island and Fiji.

"This festival is for our kids," says Melanie.

"Our children need to know what the Pacific Islands are all about, and if they are from there they need to know about their dance, food, culture and how things work.

“Us Pacific Islanders are sprinkled around the Bay of Plenty, so it’s nice for us to come together to celebrate.

“It’s just a really happy time - it’s loud, we laugh and we don’t have to go to Auckland to eat our food.”

The festival, hosted by Brookfield School, is taking place on Wednesday, October 30, from 9am-2.30pm at Sydenham Botanic Park. Entry is free.

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/PasifikaBOP/

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