Sharing Polynesian Culture Through Dance With Ariam Cruz of Polynesian Luau Productions
Updated: Nov 9
For Ariam Kamalani Cruz, aloha is both a family business and an inherited way of life. Having grown up in a Hawaiian/Tahitian/Puerto Rican household where music and dance were not only natural avenues of communication but a legitimate profession, the now-24-year-old is carrying on that dual tradition as a cultural ambassador in her own right.
As a lead performer with her family’s Polynesian Luau Productions, Ariam embodies the time-honored art of telling the history of her people through dance. Her expressive hip movements and subtle gestures – and the occasional handling of a poi – are front and center in the presentation. It’s a multi-generational affair meant to entertain audiences while teaching them the deeper cultural meanings of what they’re seeing. But there’s also a personal component, Ariam says:
“When I dance, I’m representing my ancestors at all times. In order to keep our bloodline strong and our lineage strong, we dance and we tell the history of our family.”
It’s a history populated by warriors and royalty, which she says has helped her understand where some of her own traits – like perseverance and a survivor’s determination – came from. Such knowledge, she believes, gives you “a greater appreciation not just for your family, but also the things you’ve done. I have my ancestors with me, and I feel that as I work.”
In the last year, she’s found a second way to delight the masses while honoring the deeply felt spirituality of her people. She and her sister, Zion, have become co-proprietors of The Kava Bowl. This lounge dispenses the ceremonial, calming beverage to a highly receptive clientele of Polynesians and mainlanders alike.
Ariam says the reason for opening the lounge was to preserve the authenticity of the kava-drinking ritual in a way some similar establishments don’t. Not that she doesn’t love those places and thinks they’re “awesome” on their own terms. “But for Polynesians, kava is very sacred to us. It’s something that’s used for ceremonies. And now it’s seen as more of a social drink amongst (some of) us, but we still have that same respect towards kava. Even if we’re not doing the full ceremony, we still keep the same reverence around it.”
No one could call The Kava Bowl a stuffy joint, however: There’s also a regular schedule of karaoke and jam nights to preserve the atmosphere of informal bonhomie.
Ariam remains a regular participant in FusionFest, the annual downtown Orlando expo where members of our area’s diverse cultural communities come together to show off and collaborate. At last year’s event, she performed a striking dance routine that combined more traditional elements with the sounds of the young Maori metal outfit Alien Weaponry. And ever on the hunt for new worlds to conquer, she has recently branched into teaching dance herself.
“I was talking about it for years with my mom” – Teuruhei Buchin, mistress of ceremonies for the luau shows – “but I didn’t want to do it without the proper knowledge. But I’m learning and teaching with my mom by my side.”
That humility is a trademark of Polynesian culture and of her family in particular. What’s rewarding, she says, is that the more she does to convey that culture to the world, the more she’s learning about her own place within it, and within her clan.
“My grandpa, whenever he watches me dance, he says I remind him of his niece that he raised,” she says. “Or even sometimes his mom and his sisters. Just by the way I carry myself. He says, ‘Your presence reminds me of them. And it brings me back to that sweet memory of seeing them dance and just live life.’”
This story is proudly brought to you in partnership with FusionFest. Together, FusionFest and Pedacitos believe in the power of storytelling as a way to celebrate and amplify the diverse voices within our communities. FusionFest is also the name of the incredible two-day multicultural event held in the heart of Downtown Orlando every Thanksgiving weekend.
This FREE event showcases some of the many ways culture can be displayed and shared, including through music, art, food, fashion, and more! Their mission extends beyond this once-a-year event with opportunities for the community to engage and learn through curated cultural events throughout the year.
FusionFest Inc. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with the mission to celebrate the people and the many different cultures that make Central Florida awesome by showcasing talents, sharing stories, driving innovation and building community based on respect and understanding. FusionFest is a project of the Orange County Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs.