Hawai‘i resident Malia Delapenia has always loved movement. As a youngster, she studied martial arts like tai chi, tae kwon do, and aikido. She also took lessons in ballroom, flow, jazz, salsa and, of course, hula. Inspired by hip-hop culture, Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson, Malia began choreographing shows for her family and friends when she was only seven. She also taught herself to dance by watching music videos obsessively, and, by 11, decided she wanted to be a choreographer.
“I have a huge movement background,” she acknowledges.
It’s no surprise then that Malia ended up as a professional dancer. But instead of pursuing the traditional dances of her native island home, she opted to perform Middle Eastern bellydance.
Born to a musician father and actress mother on the Big Island, Malia was raised on O‘ahu. Her grandfather migrated from the Philippines bringing along their family name Delapenia, which she says means “out of the pineapple.” Like a lot of people in Hawai‘i, Malia’s background is multiethnic and includes Portuguese, German, Irish, and Czech ancestors.
While she always knew she wanted to dance, Malia says her parents moved from the city to live on 25 acres of what she refers to as “Tarzan-land.” With a strong desire to provide their children with a pono lifestyle, they insisted on an upbringing that included living close to nature. Even though music was a big part of her life, Malia says her folks made it clear that they didn’t want their children exposed to “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.”
But, she says, she soon realized, “It was destined in my blood.”
All her life, Malia had felt like an outsider. She was homeschooled and didn’t fit in, she states, because she was “very curvy.” Looking for something “different,” she took her first bellydance class from Shakti (Sundae Merrick) in 1999 and discovered the perfect blend of respect for ancient cultures and a passion for traditional dance.
Before long, she was dancing regularly, which led to her creating her signature “Malia in Hawai‘i.” With just the right mix of sass and class, she incorporates cabaret fusion with Middle Eastern bellydance movement.
“I’m a Las Vegas style bellydancer, extremely theatrical,” she explains.
As the owner of Bellydancers in Paradise, Malia, performs at community centers, gymnasiums, hotel functions, large corporate events, restaurants, stages, and weddings. She’s also done special shows like her live performances of the Abduction of the Seralio with the Hawai‘i Symphony and Opera at the Blaisdell.
In addition to teaching weekly classes, Malia travels often—touring and conducting seminars. With students seeking her out from around the world, Malia has an international following. Pupils come from dozens of countries including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Dominican Republic, Egypt, France, Germany, Japan, Philippines and Russia just to learn from her.
At home in Honolulu, Malia produces the annual Hawai‘i Bellydance Convention, which she founded in 2005. Held the second week of October, the convention offers performances and workshops to both novices and professionals alike.
While her original goal as a dancer didn’t include bellydancing, Malia says that the practice “found” her and, she’s never considered any other career since. To her, bellydancing “is everything.”
“It takes up my life and my soul,” she declares, before adding, “I love this ancient artcraft that I’m involved with.”
Even though her show biz parents exerted great effort to prevent their children from following in their footsteps, Malia says they’re proud of her now.
“It took them a little bit to get used to me becoming a bellydancer,” she admits, “but these days, they’re my biggest fans.”
Malia’s upcoming West Coast tour will include Seattle and, between February 28 and March 2, she’ll conduct a series of workshops here. Some of her classes are structured for beginners while others are more appropriate for groups and instructors.
To sign up for Malia’s 2014 West Coast Tour in Seattle, visit http://www.asiyanourouz.com/malia-delepenia-workshops.html. For more information on Malia, visit www.maliainhawaii.com.