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Up and coming Pacific ballet dancer says her culture is a secret to her success

Merewai Durutalo

Dance academy scholarship recipient reflects on how her Pacific roots is helping her excel in the ballet world.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Nothing gets more artistically expressive than dance and for Kendra Vito-Toleafoa her heart and soul are all in it.

She lives, breathes, and communicates vibrantly through three different dance forms.

She says that rhythm and flow come easily being a Pacific Islander in the ballet, jazz, and contemporary dance world.

“I just like moving my body in that type of way, being in open spaces where I can express myself,” Vito-Toleafoa says.

Kendra as an eight-year-old in ballet class. Photo/ Leone Vito-Toleafoa

The West Auckland 15-year-old has roots in the villages of Fasito’o - Uta and Lepea in Samoa.

Vito-Toleafoa says having her Samoan identity be a part of her dance journey is important because it shows that anyone can do it, no matter their colour, ethnicity, or skill level.

“I like representing because it shows how strong Pasifika women can be and can do anything that they want.”

She says that rhythm and flow come easily being a Pacific Islander in the ballet, jazz, and contemporary dance world.

“I guess we just flow really easily, feel the rhythm.”

Vito-Toleafoa says navigating high school alongside being a dancer is not an easy task but being able to dance helps her get through the hurdles of studies.

“We got NCEA exams on top of dance every week but my school friends are really supportive of what I do. It’s not the most common thing for Islanders but they find that unique about me.”

She has been dancing since the age of five and has ten years of experience in jazz, ballet and contemporary dance styles.

Vito-Toleafoa is committed to her craft and says she puts in ten to fifteen hours per week of dance practice. For her, this means back to back weekends of dance commitments.

She says dance is how she expresses her feelings without having to say things and that ballet has been the most special dance style to her as she gets older.

Director of Auckland Academy of Dance, Nancy Holland-Schroder says she offered Kendra a partial scholarship on the strength of her commitment to dance as that is her obvious talent.

“She is a very strong, formidable dancer, confident, proud, and brimming with passion and energy.”

Vito-Toleafoa says she really enjoys working with her mentors as they have been supportive of her professional dance developments and aspirations.

She competed in ten professional dance competitions during 2022 and still competes today.

Vito-Toleafoa says that she goes through about four pairs of demi pointe shoes (ballet shoes) a year which she says can be quite pricey alongside other professional dance kit requirements.

She says it can cost slightly over five thousand dollars a year investing in all her gear, exams and dance competition fees so she does not take any of it for granted being able to dance professionally.

For Vito-Toleafoa ballet is where her heart is set.

“Family is everything, I always dance for them. If I ever have a show or solo I always do it for them. I mean they get me through everything, they get me where I need to be for dance, pay for a lot of my things so, I guess it’s my way of paying them back. I dance for them.”

Hero image: Dance teacher Daniel Cooper and Danielle Timbers of Auckland Academy of Dance alongside Kendra Vito-Toleafoa. Photo / Leone Vito-Toleafoa (Kendra's mum)

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