Polynesian dance is not likely the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Dillon, Montana.
Yet this ranching community is home to a lively and entertaining Polynesian Dance Club based at the University of Montana-Western.
Started five years ago by a Hawaiian native and coach of the Bulldogs football team, the club was a way to help keep his recruited Hawaiian student-athletes connected to their home shores and to give them a fun and confidence-boosting activity during the off-season, said Judy Ulrich, the club's faculty adviser.
Since its humble beginnings, the club has expanded to include a communitywide membership of young and old, teachers and students, athletes and the culturally adventurous.
On Sunday, a smaller entourage of the 45-member dance club gave a Missoula performance in honor of visiting dignitaries from New Zealand.
The club's Haka, a Maori war dance, Hulas from Hawaii and Samoa, and other dances from locales such as Fiji and Tonga were well received by a hearty and appreciative audience, including John Hornblow, deputy-mayor of Palmerston North, - Missoula's sister-city, and other esteemed guests, Wiremu and Trieste Te Awe Awe, the first couple of the Rangitane Maori tribe of the Palmerston North region.
"We are very excited to have these visiting dignitaries from New Zealand come visit us and we are celebrating the multiple cultures over several days," said Debby Florence, special events coordinator for the Missoula Cultural Council.
Sunday's performance at the Dance Collective in downtown Missoula was just one of many celebrations held over the weekend to recognize Missoula's relationship with Palmerston North. (More events are planned this week, see accompanying story.)
Amanda Mulholland, a UM-Western dancer, said she was thrilled to be part of the celebration and happy to educate the Missoula audience about Polynesian dances.
"It's really fun to get dressed up in these long skirts, and what I love is that the dances are very deep," said the college sophomore. "The dances are so expressive - where you put your feet, how you move your hips and where you place your hands - it all has meaning and purpose."
Penisoni Tuifua, a Bulldog football player, said he loves the opportunity the club gives him to show off the beauty and fun of his native Hawaii - and of Polynesian culture in general.
"It's a great experience and it is definitely a way to show off our culture," Tuifua said.
"It's a great way to stay busy after football season," said Chris Iosefo, 21. "And it's just fun."