In the kitchen of Lauren Ah Sang’s home in Killeen, members of her extended family are busy making lumpia, a type of Filipino egg roll that is a coveted delicacy during the holidays or any other celebratory time of the year.
“We make it for every occasion including events, weddings, Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, grandfather’s birthday — if we can find a reason, we will make it,” said her cousin Melissa Rios.
Ah Sang’s recipe has been handed down through the family for generations. “Mom and Dad brought it over from the Philippines,” said her mom, Teresa Burtchell.
“No one makes it the way we do,” added Ah Sang.
Her kitchen table is covered with plates holding the different ingredients that go into making lumpia. The women work days ahead to prepare the handmade rolls that are then deep fried to a tender crispiness. Like most families, the cooks barely get the rolls out of the fryer and onto the paper-towel-covered plate when someone sneaks up behind and grabs one, still hot from the fryer.
“Lumpia is a holiday favorite,” said Ah Sang. “Everyone is excited to make lumpia.”
Making a Filipino delicacy is just one of the many activities that bring this group together. Ah Sang is the founder of Sivi Ori Polynesia, a dance group that brings together men, women and children of different ethnicities to learn, perform and share the culture of Polynesia through dance. It started with 12 members and has grown to 40, with nine actual dancers.
“It’s very important to me that the children can participate and learn cultural traditions, discipline and grace from learning different cultural dances,” said Ah Sang, who is the mother of five daughters ranging in age from 2 to 15 years old.
Ah Sang said her husband, Sunny, who is Samoan, introduced her to Polynesian dancing when they were both students at Ellison High School. They were dating at the time and Ah Sang said “she fell in love with the culture.”
Last year, Ah Sang decided to share her cultural dances and founded Siva Ori Polynesia, a dance group that performs Samoan, Hawaiian and Tahitian dances.
Ah Sang said Samoa is the land of the happy people. “It’s very small, but they have the most beautiful voices,” she said. “Dances are very graceful. A lot of other islands use the whole body. With Samoan dances you use the right foot only and your hands move.” Men do a step dance called “Siva Tau,” a war chant.
Traditionally, Samoan fire dancers have been men, but Ah Sang said times are changing with children and women learning the dance.
Hawaiian dances are more connected to the earth, she said. “You keep both feet connected to the ground and use the whole body to tell stories. There is emphasis on the hands, and chants in Mele (a Hawaiian language) tells of ancient times. They also use a lot of dance props,” she said.
To become a true Hawaiian dancer, one must train with a Kumuhula master. “A Hawaiian lady who teaches dance,” Ah Sang explained. “Only one student out of 100 will be picked as a new Kumuhula.”
A Kumuhula must know about plants, what each plant is because there is a deity in the plant, Ah Sang said. “When she makes a costume, she dyes the fabric using natural pigment.”
Tahitian dancing is more exciting, Ah Sang explained. She said it is mostly hip and hand movement with a focus on the hips, and drumming. “It’s not hula,” she said.
Siva Ori Polynesia travels around the state performing dances and sharing their culture. Burtchell said other dance troupes have embraced them.
“They are impressed with what we accomplished,” Rios added.
This past September, Sivi Ori Polynesia held its first So Poly Fest that drew more than 2,500 people to the Killeen Amphitheater.
“We accomplished things we didn’t think we would accomplish,” Rios said. “The Poly Fest was huge. We had no idea we can do that, be able to do this.”
This multicultural group welcomes all who are interested in learning the dances of the islands. They embrace family and welcome all who step over their threshold as a member of their extended family.
Army wife Janay Garcia said she had only been in the area for two weeks when she brought her daughter to So Poly to learn how to dance and get to know others.
“At first I did it for my daughter. She wanted to join. But they got me, too,” Garcia said.
Being family oriented is a huge draw to the members of Siva Ori Polynesia. Burtchell said it’s the love of family that attracts other people to their join their group.
“They want to be part of a family,” Burtchell said. “Men, women, cousins, learn the culture, what’s important to family, stay together and play together.”