Aureana Tseu jokes that she must have been hula dancing since she was in her mother’s womb. It’s actually a profound comment by the world-class dancer and Miss Hawaii USA 2009. When Aureana’s mother Iwalani was pregnant with her, she had cervical cancer and doctors recommended that she terminate the pregnancy. But Iwalani decided to have her baby.
“I first learned about it from mom when I was a teenager modeling in the Philippines,” said Aureana, 27, a hazel-eyed beauty with an ethnic background that includes Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino and Caucasian heritage. “I think that knowing about it is why I cherish life so much. It takes too much energy to be negative and dwell on what could have happened, should have or maybe. If you take every experience – positive or negative – and realize that there is an opportunity to grow from it, you can stay cheerful. Life really is precious and short.”
Sitting down for chat with Aureana and her mother outside Nirvana in Tokyo Midtown, it’s a cold afternoon but that doesn’t faze the vivacious Hawaiian. Her cheerfulness exudes a natural warmth. She is a regular visitor to Japan, coming 5-6 times a year to perform hula dancing shows, teach Japanese students and generally promote the state of Hawaii.
Aureana got her dancing start in early in life at her mother’s school, the famed Iwalani School of Dance. She recalls not being very enthusiastic at first. “I cried every day when mom took me to practice. My two sisters and I had no choice. Whether we liked it not, we got packed up and taken to class. It wasn’t until I was 7 or 8 that I had my first experience of being on stage and I started to love it. Then I would play dress up at home and create my own costumes.”
Beauty pageants became a part of Aureana’s life early on. “When I was 11, my mom sent me to check the mail, and in there was a flyer for Miss Pre-Teen Asia. I had always watched the different pageants on TV, so I begged her to let me enter. She said absolutely not because she thought I didn’t have the stamina or skin for it. But she and dad eventually relented. I signed up for the contest and won it.” It was the first of many wins – Aureana went on to become Miss Hawaii Teen USA 1999, Miss Oahu Filipina 2003, Miss Hawaii Filipina 2003, as well as Miss Hawaii USA 2009.
She first came to Japan when she was 15 to take part in an Osaka fashion show organized by the wife of Hawaii’s then governor. In between her trips to Japan and beauty pageants, Aureana completed her education. She studied business management at college and has a company -- Ka Nani A Hawai'i – which produces her many hula dance performances.
Her shows in Japan, held in various venues such as hotels, always draw enthusiastic fans. “Japanese audiences love hula dancing because Hawaii has a strong historical relationship with Japan. Hula is an interpretive dance, so I try to incorporate different styles and ideas into my dancing, such as belly dancing, jazz and Brazilian,” says Auerana who also choreographs her shows, does stage and costume design, as well as select her back-up dancers.
Passion and lots of training
Passion and lots of training are the key to success, she points out. “You need passion to be a great dancer, or with any profession, actually. You also have to be humble enough to know that you are constantly learning, no matter how great other people may tell you that you are.” To keep in shape, Aureana practices 6-8 hours a day, and longer – 9-12 hours -- when she is getting ready for a competition. “You discover muscles you didn’t realize you have by doing a certain move,” she explains. “For the rest, lots of sleep and tons of water keep me in good shape.”
Many of the dancers for her shows in Japan come from the Yokohama branch of the Iwalani school that Aureana’s mother opened in 1996. Besides teaching Japanese students the ethnic dances of the South Pacific, South America and the Middle East, the school helps them to develop a positive attitude, confidence, self-esteem and respect for tradition and family values. “Dancing – any kind of dancing -- can help a woman build self-esteem. The group becomes like a second family, your sisters,” says Aureana. “There is one Japanese girl at the Yokohama school, who is shy and introverted. But the second we put her in a costume with eyelashes, she comes alive.”
Aureana says she hopes her own experiences can help young women overcome such problems. “Women, especially young girls, have self-esteem problems. When they are young, so many social pressures are put on them about what is beautiful, smart and strong. They don’t truly believe in themselves and they submit to abuse, be it emotional or domestic violence because they don’t have inner strength or confidence. That’s a big problem now in Hawaii.
“And what is beauty anyway? Growing up, I had experiences of people making fun of me because of the way I looked. I had fair skin and green eyes and I was in an all-Hawaiian school. As long as you feel beautiful inside, who cares how others judge you? But that is a hard message for young women to instil in themselves.”
One thing that being in a beauty contest taught Aureana is that she can be a voice for various issues. “As an ambassador for Hawaii, it’s important to not only share everything that is special and unique about Hawaii but to also bring to the forefront specific issues that our state has to deal with as well.”
Her dancing takes her away from her sunny homeland quite a lot, including to some cold climates. “The coldest places I have performed in were England and New Zealand. Another time, my sister and I were head choreographers and directors for dancers at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade once. It was a freezing day. The hula dancers had to wear leotards.”
Aureana has put out a DVD that has her dancing and explaining about Hawaiian culture. “It shows the human side of me, not just what I do on stage,” she says. The “human” side of her includes a love for sweets, such as pumpkin ice cream pie and an affinity for karaoke. “You cannot get me off the microphone or I’ll be up there for at least 20 minutes,” she laughs.
In future, Aureana says she would like to be a creative director. “There will be a point where I hang up my hula panties. When I do, I want to continue to just create and produce all the elements that go into a show.”
That won’t be the end of her dancing, though. “I am sure there is hula in heaven,” she says with a sparkle in her voice.
For more info on Aureana, visit http://www.aureana.com/© Japan Today