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Hula time at the SCV Senior Center

Posted: May 19, 2008 8:31 p.m.
Updated: July 20, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Polynesian dance instructor Winona Plantenberg, right, shows Dolores Fox how to "fish" during a hula at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center on May 5.

If you pass by the dining room at the SCV Senior Center on a Monday afternoon, you'll find yourself slowing down to listen as the sweet sounds of Hawaiian music drift through the door and you'll swear you hear the ocean and smell the tropical flowers. Don't be a humu-humu nuku-nuku a pua'a and go swimming by. Stop in and see the fun as the members of the Beginning Polynesian Dance class swirl their hips and swish their feet across the floor. You'll get caught up in the good times they're having.

"I love Hawaiian music and dance," said class member Dolores Fox of Saugus.

Instructor Winona Plantenberg recently took over the class and brought with her 40 years of experience, boundless energy and a true love of Polynesian dance born from her travels to the islands.

"I've danced since I was seven years old and the only time I quit was when I had my right knee replaced in 2000 and both hips replaced in 2001," Plantenberg, who is 81, said.

You'd see no evidence of any slowing-down as she demonstrates and leads her students through the graceful sweeps of the dances, which provide a gentle workout for everything from the fingers to the toes.

"I'm very flexible. Within a year (after her surgeries) I was back teaching. I can still outdo teenagers," she said.

The Beginning Polynesian Dance class is just that, and many of the students are taking up the art for the first time. Dolores Fox said May 5 was her first day.

Janice Grice has been attending the class since January. "A friend brought me. She said it was really fun. It's not the same old thing," she said.

Kelley Schranz of Valencia said she has been coming for about five weeks. Her family has a home in Hawaii, so they are often there. "I see dancers and I'm envious," she said. "I've threatened to do this for years, but was searching for a class." She's looking forward to surprising people when she finally demonstrates what she's learned.

The class offers instruction in hula, of course, but also Tahitian dance, including use of the Tahitian "fan" called the i'i. There are also Maori dances and Plantenberg's students learn to become proficient at swinging poi balls.

Plantenberg has studied Polynesian dance with masters from Hawaii and Los Angeles and she is experienced at teaching a variety of these including kahiko (ancient hula) and auana (modern hula), Samoan, Maori, fast Tahitian, slow Tahitian, and dances from the Philippines that incorporate poles and sticks. She and her husband Bill have visited many of these locales. In particular, she said she'd been to Hawaii some 30 times. The couple participates in the Merrie Monarch dance competition there every year.

For 40 years she has not only been teaching, but also putting on authentic Polynesian luaus. Her husband is a tenor-soloist and usually performs at these events as well as the dance troupes she organizes.

Plantenberg also has an incredible history in other areas of dance, including being a Rockette and performing in movies with Hollywood greats such as Doris Day, Bing Crosby and Elvis - and The Signal will take a look at the rest of Plantenberg's amazing life very soon.

So stop by the Senior Center some Monday and catch a little taste of the islands. You might just want to join in the fun.


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