Polynesian Cultural Center prepares for 50th anniversary

Published: Wednesday, July 18 2012 5:58 p.m. MDT

Polynesian Cultural Center dancer Erin Ahjue demonstrates a dance in Salt Lake City Wednesday, July 18, 2012. They will perform at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center and in the Days of '47 Parade.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

When the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie, Hawaii, was first created in 1963, attendance was so low some days that the employees would go out to the road to recruit people to come watch them perform.

"It is because of the faith of these people that the center is still around today," said Ray Magalei, director of marketing at the Polynesian Cultural Center. "They could've given up, but they didn't, and that spirit still exists today."

Today, the center has had more than 37 million visitors and is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Hawaii.

Performers from the Polynesian Cultural Center will visit Salt Lake City to help celebrate the center's upcoming 50th anniversary. They will march with more than 50 Utah-residing alumni dancers in the KSL Days of '47 Parade with their float "Voyage of Faith — Pioneers of the Polynesian Isles."

The performers will also present highlights from their evening show "Ha — Breath of Life" at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley City on July 19 and 20 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased in advance or on the day of the show.

The Polynesian Cultural Center was built to provide employment for the students at what is now Brigham Young University-Hawaii and to preserve and portray the Polynesian culture. Magalei said more than 17,000 students and thousands more from the community have found employment at the center.

Magalei said past employees of the Polynesian Cultural Center feel a feeling of "ohana," or family, there, so when they have an opportunity to come back and feel it again, they do.

When the center held its 40th anniversary celebration in 2003, Magalei said so many people came to the alumni performance that they couldn't fit them on the stage.

In September 2013, the center will hold its 50th anniversary celebration, and this time the performance will be separated into two. It is anticipated that thousands of alumni will attend.

Along with the alumni show, the 50th anniversary celebration will also include a ball, a luau and competitions that will include coconut husking, spear throwing and fire starting.

Magalei said he gets emails from the alumni participating in the Days of '47 Parade complaining about the aches in their knees and backs as they've been practicing the dance moves after so many years — but they're excited to perform again.

"Not many companies go to former employees for an anniversary celebration," Magalei said. "That's just a testimony of the spirit of this place."

The center's evening show, "Ha — Breath of Life," is the most popular show at the center. It has only been around for about two years, and both Terina Oto and Ricky Sua'ava have danced as the lead characters since the beginning. They both said working at the Polynesian Cultural Center has made a difference in the community and in who they are.

"It provides education for the young people to learn more about their culture and other people's culture as well," Sua'ava said. "It's a sharing and a giving experience. It's done a lot for the community."

"It helped build my confidence," Oto said. "It's made me realize that I don't only represent myself but also my family and Polynesia and the (LDS) Church."

EMAIL: mgarrett@desnews.com

If you go …

What: "Ha — Breath of Life," Polynesian Cultural Center dancers

Where: Utah Cultural Celebration Center, 1355 W. 3100 South

When: July 19 and 20, 7 p.m.

How much: $10

Phone: 965-5100

Web: www.wvc-ut.gov

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