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  • Tucker Spolter

The Great Hawaiian Fire Dance


HAWAII <> MAUI

The 17th hole of the Maui Nui Golf Course is a par 3. Dick, Ray and I were about to tee off when a “tourist -friend” [you have to see one of these guys or gals they are willing to save you the entire cost of your holiday including air fare if you’d only….] appeared from behind a coconut tree. “Aloha, aloha, my friends.” He rushed toward us; a scalper brandishing tickets to the final Beatles concert. He wasn’t selling coconuts. He was hawking ‘coveted’ tickets to the Great Hawaiian Fire Dance. At 20% off! He crossed his heart and swore to god that he only had six tickets left.

Back at our condos, over Mai Tai’s, Dick and Ray felt compelled to tell their wives about our encounter with our “tourist –friend.” Our wives decided we should attend The Great Hawaiian Fire Dance. We could all use some Hawaiian culture. One wife let it be known that we were fools not to get the tickets for 20% off.

We donned our tourist garb, abandoned our condos and went to a famous hotel. Standing under the awing was our “tourist-friend.” His fists were stuffed with tickets. But these were full price tickets not 20% off tickets.

As we were ushered through the lobby a young woman explained that protocol and a very ancient island tradition required that the Great Hawaiian Fire Dance be held outside, on the beach, in the sand, preferably at low tide, on a line that coordinated with the ascent, descent, orbit and various phases of the moon.

No pikers, we’d purchased the best tickets. Front row. We were each handed a name tag and a beige folding chair, with thick rubber tipped legs, that could be spiraled into the sand for stability. We draped our seats over our arms and clutched our ‘let the lapping waves and foaming surf soothe this moment,’ billets,” between our fingers.

We were told to wait by a group of palm trees. People joined us. Most of them were older. Most of them didn’t look Hawaiian, though they were very colorful with their sunburns and off-blue hair and various Hawaiian shirts. We waited and chatted by the beach until one of the off-blue haired people gasped for air and collapsed. Oddly, the ambulance that arrived moments later was off-blue too. The medics were efficient. Within minutes, the man was up and sucking on a drink with a stalk of celery and an umbrella sticking out of his glass.

After the excitement, we continued to wait. A few folks ventured to the ocean dipping thonged toes into the surf. There was no stage, no band, no dancers and worst of all there was no Great Hawaiian Fire Pit that might have held the fire for the Great Hawaiian Fire Dance.

Just as a general sense of misgiving settled on our group a staff member appeared . “People, people, people! Ah, ha, so there you are.” She exclaimed. “Found you.”

“I didn’t know we were lost,” Barb nudged me.

“They told us to come here. Didn’t they, Harold?” A woman behind us added. “Tell them they told us to come here. Because they did. Didn’t they?”

The staff member gave each of us a plastic flowered lei as she read our names off our name tags and checked us off her master list. “Regrettably, there has been a change of venue. Would you please follow me.” She high-stepped it back to the hotel. We followed in a line so straight that any group of South American army ants would be proud of.

Ray said. “Isn’t the Great Hawaiian Fire Dance supposed to be held outside, on the beach, in the sand, preferably at low tide, on a line that coordinated with the ascent, descent, orbit and various phases of the moon. “ Kate, his wife shushed him.

Two people collected our chairs as we entered the hall. It was big! More of a convention center. Not very Hawaiian. I already missed the beach, the sound of the surf and the full moon, but it was a nice hall. Several twelve foot cardboard palm trees book-ended both sides of the stage. Piles of papier-mâché coconuts added to the decor. In the background appeared to be a hastily constructed volcano. In the foreground, someone had painted a giant tsunami like wave. An outrigger canoe sat atop and a longhaired bronze surfer bored his way through the tube. But I still missed the sound of the surf and the view of the moon and stars outside.

Five Hawaiian musicians were somewhat hidden behind huge, plastic, potted ferns, hibiscus and birds of paradise. They had a state of the art Dolby Quadraphonic sound system with three Gibson electric guitars, a trumpet and a ten-piece Ludwig Drum Set. Now I knew, why we’d been herded into the hall. The beach didn’t have any electrical outlets for the authentic Hawaiian music. Not one ukulele could be seen.

The authentic native band warmed up the crowd with a few authentic native tunes, though one sounded a lot like La Bamba and another reminiscent of a World War II Nazi marching tune. The crowd enjoyed the tunes, though admittedly they didn’t clap much. Some of them couldn’t. They were old.

A Wayne Newton look and sound alike came on stage to a single, loud feminine cheer. We learned quickly that it was his mother. It was her birthday. The crowd went wild. I knew that every one of them was hoping for at least one more birthday or ten. More than a dozen of the women would have loved to have had Wayne for a son especially after the way he gushed over his mother.

I had suspicions that after their Hawaiian vacation some wills would be amended. Call your parents. Ah, but I digress…

Wayne told us about the show we were about to see. It sounded incredible. “And the finale,” he shouted, “will be. . .,” he allowed the tension to build. “The Great Hawaiian Fire Dance!” Wayne could have sold Domino’s pizza to Pizza Hut. He was beyond glib.

The band kicked in. Out hula’d nine Hawaiian dancers, six women and three men. The women looked lovely in their polyester grass skirts, plastic leis, and especially their faux shark tooth necklaces and garters. Conversely, the men looked bleak, especially a potbellied, blond that we later found out hailed from Tulsa, Oklahoma. He either had a serious case of varicose veins or a wonderfully imaginative purple tattoo.

The dancer’s danced. They did a medley of numbers from: Fiji, Tonga, Pago Pago, and Samoa and finished with a nameless number, with slides of volcanoes exploding on the wall behind them above the wave and the outrigger canoe. With the volume of the music and the amount of lava spewing from the volcanoes I dubbed it The Atom Bomb Hula from Bikini Atoll. No one thought I was funny.

Wayne sauntered back on stage dressed in red, white and blue. He introduced either a nine year old girl or a thirty-five year old midget. She did a terrific, though small hula. She was hard to see even from the front row sitting on a fold-up metal chair.

People to my left and right squinted. The music ended. Wayne raced on stage with his arms pumping the crowd. The crowd wasn’t pumped. “Is that young lady wonderful? Bring your hands together for ‘Little Bitty Shelia Gritty.’ ” The audience clapped a bit. For one gentleman in the audience the effort was too much. He went out on a gurney. I wondered what the Guinness Book of Records was for lost audience members for one event.

Wayne held out his hand to the curtain and the band played the opening strains of the Hawaiian Wedding Song. The crowd went wild. The curtains slid open and out glided a very large woman. I would have cancelled the engagement. . .until she sang. Her voice was incredible. The hairs on my arm went stiff. We all went wild. Especially, Wayne’s mother.

Finally, all the lights dimmed until the room went black. The drummer began to drum. Two young men appeared on either side of the stage. In each hand they held sticks the girth and length of a baseball bats. The end of each was lit. You could feel the heat. The Great Hawaiian Fire Dance exploded.

They twirled, tossed, bounced their batons of fire off of the floor of the stage, leaped over the flame, and pulled them between their legs, OUCH. Then something went wrong.

A splash of fire appeared on the left of the stage. Then another splash of fire appeared to the right. A palm tree ignited. A hush came over the crowd. A fire alarm went off. Then another and another. And the sprinkers sprinkled. A woman cried, “My hair!” People stampeded for the exits. From the stage Wayne cancelled The Great Hawaiian Fire Dance.

Maybe the whole show would have been better with ukuleles on the beach, though the Hawaiian Wedding Song was nice.

As Barb, Ray, Kate, Dick and Dee and I left they snatched back our plastic leis. They allowed us to keep our name tags. . . but then again, we already knew who we were.


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