Over 30 competitors will take to the stage at Rehab nightclub on Friday night for the popular annual Expats, Masters and Golden Oldies Te Mire Ura Dance competition.
The VIP tables sold out last week so there will only be standing room for those who want to witness a night of fun entertainment.
Claire Wilson aka Kerera, Cook Islands Tourism’s Business Partnerships manager will be one of the brave expats who will showcase their cultural dance experience on stage.
She first entered the competition in 2016 and said the whole experience absolutely blew her away.
Wilson had attended ura classes for some years when in 2016, a dear friend Punanga Kaveao, secretly entered her name in the event.
“We had always joked about it, she had taught me a couple of songs, but I never thought she was serious. But once we started on the journey of training together, I gained so much; emotionally, spiritually, and physically, more than I ever could have known,” she said.
“Punanga taught me courage and strength, all wrapped up with a wonderful grace and respect. She dedicated her time and energy into my training, and into me. It was the most humbling experience of my life.”
Wilson began to understand key Maori words and the rhythms of the Cook Islands music that made her realise just how much the country had touched her heart.
Since 2016, each year she considered whether to enter again but somehow it never felt quite right.
“However this year, with everything that has happened due to Covid-19, I have so much gratitude and love that I want to show to my local friends and family; those who have helped me, guided me and protected me in my home away from home,” she said.
The pandemic crisis had affected her life.
“It has been hard, hard being away from my family in Australia, but there are some beautiful people here that truly are my family.”
Her performance on Friday is dedicated to both of her homes - the Cook Islands and Australia, to the people she considers family.
Why does she love cultural dance?
“I love the emotion behind cultural dancing. The drum beats really are the rhythm of Cook Islands life, this style of dancing is filled with such expression, love and grace,” Wilson said.
“It is so much more than just a dance; it's a story of feeling, of understanding, and, honour.”
Wilson comes from Australia and doesn’t feel she could perform in a way that would truly expresses her Australian sense of self and identity.
“And the most surprising thing that Cook Islands cultural dancing has taught me, is my own sense of self and identity. You have to dig deep into who you are and what you feel in order to portray that in your performance; cultural dances are authentic they must come from the heart,” she said.
“And this time around, I really hope to be a reflection of what my Cook Islands friends and family have taught me. To demonstrate my absolute love and respect for them, for their culture and their country. I hope that my gratitude is felt; for the community they have given me, the sense of belonging and support.”
At present Wilson is feeling all sorts of mixed emotions, she has lived on the island for seven years.
Although she is feeling a little rusty and definitely nervous, she wants to do my friends and family proud.
A challenge she felt about dancing was to be graceful.
“Transitioning from a tough netball goal defence to a delicate and graceful dancer is hard,” she laughs.
Her physique and genetic makeup comes from a strong sporting family.
She has attended the ura classes conducted by Avera Hunter and Alana Short who have worked on teaching her the correct techniques, along with her personal trainers, Punanga Kaveao and Liana Scott.
Wilson moved to Rarotonga in 2013 on a whim that turned out to be the best decision of her life.
“I have fallen completely in love with the Cook Islands; the culture, the way of life, the people, and, most of all the Kia Orana Spirit,” she said.
“The sense of community and belonging, the generosity and kindness that is abundant here. My life has been far richer and vibrant than I ever could have imagined.”
Wilson is involved in dancing, netball, cricket and many community projects through which she has met some truly beautiful people who have touched her heart and reminded her that home really is where the heart is.
The expatriate competitors are as follows: Claire Wilson will represent Cook Islands Tourism, Zac Moran for Apii Te Uki Ou, Carina Wenzel for Kavera Adventure Cook Islands, Shania Synol Kumar for Little Polynesian, Marlon Revollos for Highland Paradise and Sinsemillia Ngatono Te Wara Joseph.