Faa Tialino

Fire Dancer

December, 2002

Faa Tialino’s mother wouldn’t allow him to play college football for fear that he would get injured. So instead, the sales manager at the Hyatt Regency Maui took up the harmless hobby of … fire-knife dancing.

In reality, Tialino’s choice of hobby had more to do with happenstance than with filial defiance. Living in Laie, Tialino would accompany a fire-knife-dancing friend to his three-evenings-a-week performances at Waimanalo’s Sea Life Park. One night, the friend announced that he was leaving for a gig in Japan, and Tialino would take over his duties. “He told his boss that I was one of the best fire-knife dancers at the Polynesian Culture Center,” says Tialino. “I didn’t know how to handle the knives. I didn’t even know how to dance.”

One week later, Tialino made his first appearance at a dinner show in Kaneohe. He had planned on making a grand entrance by doing a back flip on stage. However, Tialino flopped so to speak, sliding under one of the guest tables, his flaming knife landing onto the tabletop above. The audience scattered. “It was a disaster,” says Tialino. “I thought my career was finished before it began.”

Tialino did improve, eventually going to Japan to perform before moving to Maui in 1976. For the past 13 years, he has been dancing six nights a week for the Hyatt Regency Maui’s Drums of Pacific dinner show. Eight years ago, he began working for the hotel, promoting and selling the show. Eventually, he moved over to the hotel’s general sales office.

Not too long ago, Tialino’s mother visited Maui and saw him perform for the first time. “After the show, she came up to me and said: ‘Oh, my son, I can’t believe you’re doing this. I hope you have a real job.’”

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David K. Choo