Sunday, May 19, 2002

Melenie Lesoa Leilua, left, was the first female contestant to compete and also the first to win the Junior World Fire Knife Dance Championship. Leilua's brother, 7-year-old Barry, tied for first place in the children's category Friday.

Teen is first girl
to win fire knife contest

Melenie Lesoa Leilua wowed the
audience with her agile dancing

By Diana Leone

A 14-year-old girl from Western Samoa didn't expect to beat out 11 boys to become Junior World Fire Knife Dance Champion Friday night in Laie.

But she did.

"When I came I was unsure about it. I just wanted to share my talent. I didn't even know I would place," said Melenie Lesoa Leilua through translator Tipa Galeai.

Leilua was the first female contestant in 10 years of World Fire Knife Dance Championships, said Galeai, who is on the committee that organized the event.

Galeai said Leilua wowed the capacity crowd of more than 500 at the Polynesian Cultural Center's Hale Aloha Theater with "her vigorous way of dancing, her speed, the agility of her movements and the motions that she had."

"It's just unusual to see a female dancing, but I felt she performed beyond what some of the guys could do," Galeai said. "She twirled the double knife and held her composure. With the cheering of the crowd, it's hard to keep composure."

Leilua described her ability as a fire knife dancer "as a gift from God," and said her father, Leilua Lesoa, who also fire knife dances, said "it is a talent given to our family. So, it doesn't matter if it was a boy or a girl."

Apparently so, since Leilua's brother, Barry, age 7, tied for first place in the children's category Friday, among 10 contestants ages 6-11.

Leilua said she was "excited and happy about winning the event -- being as I'm the only female that participated," and that she also is proud of her brother, who has been dancing since he was 4. They come from Siumu village, which is on Upolu Island, and dance for the Ailao Club.

Leilua began fire dancing at age 5 and has performed in Australia and American Samoa, but did not compete until this year, she said. She said she's aware of only one other girl, 11, who is a fire knife dancer in Samoa.

She said her dad "taught us to dance like how the warriors used to dance anciently."

Local winners in the contests on Friday included Micah Kapono Naruo, a 17-year-old Roosevelt High senior, who took second place in the junior competition; Kamaehu Arakaki-Fukui, 10, who tied for first place in the children's competition; and Julius Tafiti of Laie, who took second in children's division.

The adult competition took place last night.

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