“It seems like all the dancers get their pictures done in winter, even though it’s really cold to be wearing so little clothing.” Lena jokes as we scramble down the rocks of Sunset Cliffs to a tide pool area, which looks flat enough to dance on and far enough away from tourists to photograph well. When prompted for a studio location, Lena recommended two coastal outdoor venues, as “it’s more culturally accurate that way.”
Lena Camero practices Ori Tahiti, (literally translated to Tahitian Dance) with a high profile and respected troupe Te Rahiti Nui based out of San Diego, California. They perform regularly in California, as well as participate in competitions around the world. Lena has started with the group fairly recently, but has been dancing since she was a child. Her father plays the To’ere, a standing wood drum, which Lena now also plays on occasion.
While I futz around with my camera bag and try to stay out of the way of several other photographers’ ways—what appears to be a senior portrait session and a wedding—Lena has already begun stretching, which is “as much of a part of Ori Tahiti as the dance itself.” After a few stretches, Lena puts on her weighted belt, which mimics the weight of the Pareu, the traditional skirt worn during Ori Tahiti performances. “This also makes it way easier to get the motion of the movements down,” Lena demonstrates with a couple hip rotations prior to applying the belt and repeats after. It really does make a difference.
As Lena starts to dance the world around her fades away. She laughs and exclaims how much she loves dancing on uneven ground. Spectators further up on the cliffs are delighted—they get a triple show this evening; a wedding, a sunset, and now a dancer! Her commitment to the practice is truly extraordinary, and her movements seem to breathe with the ocean.
“Each dancer typically makes their own Hei and Pareu,” Lena explains as I admire her Hei (floral headband), “[…]they can be made for you, but it’s great for everyone to connect to their costumes.” Lena puts her Hei on and I adjust the stray hairs that have fallen in her face. The hair is worn loose through the Hei and allowed to fall as it may. “Everyone is always helping each other back stage, with stray hairs and the way the costumes fit,” I’m assured as I try to place one finicky lock somewhere that the wind won’t blow it right back where it was.
Overall, if this is just a sample of Ori Tahiti, I can’t wait to see a full performance and what Lena Camero gets up to next. Te Rahiti Nui’s has an upcoming recital in April, check out their website for more information about this group and their events. Aside from dancing, Lena is also a writer, doula in training, and does tarot readings full time on her Instagram, @hapabruha!