Tahitian Dance Class: London School of Hula and ‘Ori






What better way to shoo away the winter blues, than to learn dance from the warm islands of Tahiti? We invited Krysten Resnick of the London School of Hula and ‘Ori (LSHO) to lead our very first Dance Dispatches Social Club online dance class. She taught us about how Tahitian dance intertwines with other aspects of Tahitian culture, a few fundamental hip motions (of the ōte’a style) and some graceful storytelling gestures (of the ‘aparima style) during our bespoke 90-minute workshop.

a female dancer in coral crouches on a black sand beach
Photo credit: Jack Berk

If you’re a lady that loves dance and wants to sample a range of different dance styles with world-class instructors, we’d love to have you in our digital dance club!

Krysten Resnick and the London School of Hula and ‘Ori

Former Californian Krysten Resnick founded the London School of Hula and ‘Ori (LSHO) in 2011, when she moved to London. She has choreographed work for the British Museum, the Royal Academy of Arts, and the BBC; and her award-winning competition team represented the UK at the Heiva International ‘Ori Tahiti World Cup in Paris, where they earned first place in 2019. That year, they also took third place at the Ori Tahiti Nui Competition.

“Against a backdrop of fast-paced drums and graceful melodies, these unique classes present a fun cultural experience that improves harmony with your body while developing coordination, endurance, strength and grace.”

– London School of Hula and ‘Ori

London School of Hula and ‘Ori: Class Review

‘Ori Tahiti Introduction & Demonstration

Krysten’s knowledge of and passion for Tahitian dance were palpable throughout. First, she reiterated that ‘Ori Tahiti (Tahitian dance) comes from the islands of Tahiti – while Hula comes from the islands of Hawaii – and showed us the instruments that accompany both. She hinted that listening to the ukulele can help you easily identify which type of dance you are viewing; the 8-string Tahitian ukulele has a higher pitch than its Hawaiian counterpart.

The general public typically thinks of ōte’a as the iconic Tahitian dance – with quick, sharp hip movements beneath grass skirts. However, there are multiple styles of Tahitian dance. In ‘aparima, the hip movements are smoother and are often accompanied by flowing hand gestures, which tell stories. Tahitian dance has fluidly evolved throughout the peoples’ history (and survived through stages of cultural oppression), and new stories continue to be shared through ‘Ori Tahiti today.

Krysten dove into an incredible, dynamic demonstration that left us marvelling over her muscle control before inviting us to get up and to learn some foundational movements. She also dropped a bunch of tidbits throughout the class – perfect for those of us who are dance and culture nerds!

“Movement is a direct reflection of the culture itself.”

– Krysten Resnick, London School of Hula and ‘Ori

Learning Elements of Ōte’a

The first matter of business? Settling into the correct dance stance. We established a grounded connection with the floor and our breath. This is important because much of the movement in in ōte’a is seen in the hips, but the movement is actually driven by pushing the feet into the ground. It is also partially controlled by bending and straightening the knees, which is different from many hip motions in belly dance, where the legs react to the movements from the abdomen.

We learned a few key fundamental hip movements:

  • laterally shifting our hips from left to right in the frontal plane fast
  • shifting our hips forward and backward, in the sagittal plane
  • sliding our hips in a circl

In each of these motions, the bottom of the pelvis tilted upward in the transverse plane, creating a more 3-dimensional movement.

Then Krysten demonstrated how these few foundational movements could be combined to create more complex movements, like varu, a figure-eight movement reminiscent of the Cuban motion hip action, frequently seen in Latin (ballroom) dances.

a female dancer in coral poses in the tide on a black sand beach
Photo credit: Jack Berk

Learning Elements of ‘Aparima

Next, she introduced us to a few nature-based ‘aparima gestures. Our arms imitated waves on the ocean, gusts of wind and the downpouring of rain. Krysten mentioned that there are multiple gestures for many words and encouraged us to vividly imagine the scene, so we could convey the rich details in our dancing. (This part of class reminded me a little bit about a few short videos I watched on sign language and how humans convey meaning through movement.)

We kept our hips swaying as we moved through the gestures, and although the movement was quite simple (not easy, but simple in comparison to other Tahitian dance movements), for brief moments I did feel like I was actually dancing to the music – instead of just going through the motions. It was a lovely way to finish class.

Ori Tahiti Dance Class Summary

Physical intensity: 3 / 5 – But we worked muscles in the thighs and arms that normally don’t get much attention!

Most challenging moment: As with many dance genres, coordinating all of the different body parts completing different motions is a challenge. Although we took it slowly, my brain and my body got confused when we paired our slowly swaying hips with the arm gestures. Argh!

Best moment: Surprisingly, my favorite moment during class didn’t involve dancing! I really enjoyed taking a few deep breaths as Krysten guided us in a short visualisation exercise when we learned the ‘aparima nature gestures. I don’t think I consciously articulated it in my dancing, as was the goal, but I felt extraordinarily peaceful as I imagined dense, salty air surround the island, announcing a storm on the horizon.

… Plus Krysten’s occasional exclamations of ‘beautiful!’ in reaction to our dance attempts were very welcome and heartwarming, too!

Three words to describe class: Explorative, welcoming, affirming.

Although Krysten ran an exclusive class, just for the Dance Dispatches Social Club members, you can learn from her and other instructors at the London School of Hula and ‘Ori online. They offer a multi-session Hula and ‘Ori dance foundations course for beginners and run multiple online ‘Ori Tahiti classes and Hula classes each week.

If you’d like to sample Tahitian dance, why not join our Dance Passport challenge? You can learn a bit of Tahitian dance, along with a few other dances from around the globe, and we’ll stamp your digital passport as proof of your global dance journey. Let’s jet!

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