Canyon Country Community Center celebrates Polynesian culture in inaugural event

Kalakeke Pacific Island Dancers perform Tahitian dances for the hundreds of attendees during the City of Santa Clarita's Celebrate, Polynesian Island themed event held at Canyon Country Community Center in Canyon Country on Friday, 040122. Dan Watson/The Signal

The Canyon Country Community Center hosted one of its first community events since its opening five months ago and drew a crowd of an estimated 600 on Friday.  

The event, titled “Celebrate: Polynesian Islands,” is the first in a continuing series the community center will be hosting, designed to highlight and bring awareness to the different cultures that make up Santa Clarita.  

“It’s really geared towards showcasing the diversity we have here in Santa Clarita by featuring a different culture on the first Friday of every month,” said event coordinator Casey Miller. “So we’re really looking to do that through music, through food, through dance, through art and activities and customs that you would experience if you were to visit that country or that place in the world.” 

As guests entered the brand-new Community Center, they would first notice the Polynesian-inspired work of artist Susan Maddux.  

The exhibition, called “Remember the Stars Above the Ocean,” features art that spans over 20 years of Maddux’s career, which is largely drawn on her experiences growing up in Hawaii.  

“I think of the colors I use as very much like the colors of nature,” said Maddux. “I mean, they’re a little bit bright, but I also think that maybe that sort of like brightness aesthetic has to do with, again, the influence of Hawaii and living in Southern California.” 

Maddux was always an artist at heart but also worked in the textile industry for several years, which she says influenced the many tapestry pieces she had displayed. Those, and her other works, featured bright color schemes influenced by the sunny places of her origins, but also a few pieces with a notable darker scheme.  

“I painted those in 2002 in New York, which was a very dark time, quite frankly,” said Maddux. “So I’m actually kind of surprised to see that as well, the palette. I guess you could attribute that  to the time, you know, and the place.” 

As guests walked out of the lobby with Maddux’s exhibition and out onto the event space, they were greeted with the smell of heaps of roasted pork being chopped up in front of them. The event also featured several food trucks delivering Hawaiian and other Polynesian-inspired dishes that contributed to the sweet and savory smell in the air.  

Pop-up tents were lined up in two rows that led to a stage, where different music and dance from a variety of Polynesian cultures, including Hawaiian and Tahitian, were being performed.  

The tents provided both educational and entertaining activities and displays including the history of tiki masks, palm weaving demonstrations, lei making, Maori tattoos, and a hands-on exhibit of the instrument ipu heke.  

Ipu heke is a percussion instrument, used in the performances at the event, that is made from two gourds lashed together with tree sap.  

The ipu heke used in the event’s performances were hand-made by John Escobar. Escobar, who began making the instruments a few years ago, said that both the ipu heke and the Polynesian dances associated with them are a great way for people to get to know the culture.  

“I feel like a lot of people need to know the history and culture of Polynesia,” said Escobar. “It’s always good to show their customs and what they have to give to people. It’s a cultural thing, you know. I mean, if you’ve never been to Hawaii or any of the other islands it’s good to educate yourself based on  dance.” 

Gladys Farrell, who leads the Kala Ke Ke Pacific Island dance company that performed at the event, said when these instruments are made, the player chooses the gourds of which an ipu heke will be made out of. Farrell describes the act as “a spiritual experience” and that “hula is an extension of yourself.” 

The dance company performed dances from a few different Polynesian cultures, which may be hard to initially distinguish but Escobar says there’s a clear difference.  

“Hula is more gentle, Tahitian is more exotic,” said Escobar. “That’s the big difference. Hula dancers are, like, fully clothed, Tahitian gals show a lot of meat.” 

Farrell also expressed that dance was a great way to connect not just with Santa Claritans, but with her own community. 

“I think it’s great that Santa Clarita is highlighting the Polynesian people, because I know they’re out there. We just don’t know where they are. So this is really good,” said Farrell.  

Kin Farrel, Farrell’s husband who leads the dance group as well, was also satisfied with how the event went and said that anytime a festival like this is organized, people turn out.  

“Oh, it’s awesome. It’s an honor and we really appreciate it, being out here for so long. It’s really honoring us as well. So we put on a Pacific Islander festival and Santa Clarita always shows up.” 

The next “Celebrate” event at the Canyon County Community Center is scheduled Friday, May 6, and will feature the cultures of Santa Clarita’s international sister cities.  

For more information visit the community center’s website at 

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