Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

Maths teacher cutting a dash in Samoan fire dance

A Kiwi high school teacher is turning heads for his ability to perform one of the Pacific's most recognised cultural acts - fire knife dancing.

During the day, Tim Noyce is a maths teacher at Onehunga High School in Auckland.

By night, he is a member of the TahiMana Polynesian Fire Warriors, of Polynesian Entertainers Ltd, who often perform at various sports, music and cultural events.

"It's funny, we'll go to a show and sometimes I might be the only palagi (European) there.

"I sort of feel like all the boys are talking to everyone and I'm just on the outskirts.

"But then once I perform, then it's like: 'Oh yeah, no, no, he's here too," he laughed.

The 29-year-old has been performing siva afi - fire knife dancing - since picking it up while teaching at a primary school in Samoa in 2012.

The practice, which originates from ancient times, involves the use of a machete-like knife with a hook called the nifo oti.

Performers twirl and throw it into the air, in an exhibition of what is called ailao, during ceremonial dances.

"I saw a few of my students - they'd just grab sticks in the field at school, at lunch time, and they'd be spinning them.

"I said: 'Show me how it's done'."

One day, the school's caretaker noticed the youngsters teaching Noyce and let him know about fire dancing classes happening in town.

Noyce admits he struggled in the beginning and came away with more burns and scars than he cared for.

"You don't come away bleeding. You just come away with patches of no skin," he joked.

"The scars fade ... I don't know whether your skin changes or your tolerance changes. But you get used to it."

Four years on, he continues to enjoy his hobby and is now set to compete in next month's 15th International Siva Afi Competition, in Apia.

"Once you can do the move without thinking, then you can do it with fire. It's different at first - you've got to conquer the moves before you conquer the fire.

"It's a real adrenaline rush when you've got the fire all around you.

"For me, it's good fitness. When you're at school, you can't really do a whole lot of exercise."

Polynesian Entertainers' artistic director, Amo Ieriko, praised Noyce's ability and interest in the craft.

"People are both surprised and amazed that a palagi is brave enough to do the dance.

"People react positively and are very supportive of him doing siva afi.

"A lot of Pacific people take their own culture for granted, so when someone from outside the culture shows an interest, I want to give them the opportunity to learn all aspects of it."

Noyce said his family have slowly warmed up to his hobby and he continued to get big support from members of the Pacific community.

- NZ Herald

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