Two brothers, Via Joseph Tiumalu, Jr. and Rex Alaiva’a Tiumalu, are on a journey of continuing a multigenerational legacy that was built on FIRE!
Born to professional Fire Knife dancer and drummer, Viavia and dancer, Emma Leapai Tiumalu, Via and Rex were thrust into the world of entertainment from the womb! With a father from American Samoa and a mother from Samoa, it was a wonder that the two should pair up in Ohio, of all places, to pursue their dreams of taking the stage. Their paths would cross at a luau show they were hired for at SeaWorld. Viavia and Emma would unite on-stage as a power couple, which would inevitably open the doors for their boys to one day fulfill their potential and become World Champion Fire Knife Dancers.
“Our father and our uncles on our mother’s side were incredible Fire Knife dancers also. Our entire childhood was insane. We basically grew up in a van, on tour, traveling from one show to the next from our diaper years until we were grown.”
One particularly significant memory older brother, Via Tiumalu shared with FAME, took him back to a time when Rex was about a year old and he was about 5.
“I remember Rex was wearing one of those baby jumpers crying in the girls dressing room because my mom was one of the dancers. It was so crazy. The women were going back-and-forth, on and off-stage, Rex was crying so loud, and I ended up walking out to the part of the stage that the musicians were playing at. I remember just sitting there watching all of this going on, listening to the music and watching my dad come out and doing his Fire Knife routine. It was amazing and I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life.”
The Tiumalu brothers would grow up learning to dance, drum and “spin,” which is what they say when they refer to Fire Knife Dancing. Via began at the tender age of 3, while Rex, a self-proclaimed “late bloomer” began his training at age 8. Performing would ultimately become the catalyst that Viavia and Emma would use to teach their sons about their culture and heritage as well.
“We were introduced to our culture because of the dance aspect, which is why we love it so much,” said Rex.
“What my brother says is true. Learning the dance taught us a lot about our culture. It is a part of who we are, not just what we do. The main value we were taught and that was deeply embedded in us from childhood was RESPECT. In our culture, respect for your elders and for others is a core value and something that Polynesians as a whole believe in and live by. As Samoans who grew up in Florida, there weren't a whole lot of ways to connect with our culture, but because of our parents and the performers we grew up surrounded by, we learned who we are.” Via shared.
In 2005, when Via was only 13 years old, he entered his first Fire Knife Competition, taking home the title of Champion! That’s right, from his first competition, he had quickly ascended to the top!
In 2006, it was Rex’s turn. As if there wasn’t enough pressure with this being his first Fire Knife Competition, he had the added stress of living up to his big brother’s Championship Title. This caused a lot of nerves to tangle up in the young performer, but when he hit the stage, he delivered a creative and tricky routine that would allow him to follow in his brother’s footsteps, taking home his very own title of Champion as well!
“That year all of the performers from Florida took home the Championship Titles, which was really crazy,” said an enthusiastic Rex. “That was the moment when I realized we were on to something.”
Throughout the years their lives would be filled with performance, creativity and culture. The joy and fulfillment they’ve received from living their passions daily has created a sense of gratitude and contentment rarely seen in the world today.
“We’ve learned that we, as Polynesians, should be very proud of who we are. In a world where people often conform to fit in, we should embrace how unique and special we are. That’s what makes us so different, which is great!” The brothers agreed.
Via is a performer with Tihati Productions, and Rex is the Cultural Ambassador for Disney World. Both brothers are active performers and now each have their own Fire Knife Dance Schools as well. Their dream and vision is to continue to pass down the lessons and legacy that has been taught to them from the elder generation, the legends they’ve always looked up to. They also desire to unite Fire Knife Dancers around the world so that it is no longer a lone sport, but a brotherhood forged by fire. And though times are getting tougher for the pair with the onset of COVID-19 and the current shut down of venues that they usually perform at, they remain excitedly optimistic about the future and everything it holds.
“We are very fortunate to have our lives and to still be here on this earth. In truth, I believe that the only person you can really look up to is the creator of the world. You can do the work, washing your hands, putting on masks and distancing yourself from others, but if you’re freaking out with anxiety and spinning out there, you can turn to God. He’s really the only one who can give you the comfort you need through these hard times. My word of encouragement to others suffering from this pandemic is to be grateful that you are still alive and here.” ~ Via Tiamalu
“I’d like to encourage you all to cherish what you have! Time is sacred and you need to remember to spend as much time as you can doing what you love with the people you love. In the end, think about your time and who you’re spending it with. If you aren’t happy, choose to build a better life for yourself. What’s going to matter is what we spend our time here on this earth doing, so you should really do what you love while you still have the chance to do it!” ~ Rex Tiamalu
When the brothers aren’t entertaining the masses, Via is off enjoying funnel cakes and Rex delves into the Bazooki (a giant deep dish cookie he’s obssessed with!)
“I want to give a special shout out to ‘Polynesian Fire,’ which is the group I’m dancing with while at Disney because they are awesome! Also to Robert Mokiao, my best friend of ‘Magical Gains,’ which is a YouTube channel we have dedicated to giving back to others and sharing culture and passion. Our own love letter to our town! And of course, shout out to all of the people of Polynesia!”
To follow Via Tiumalu, check out his tiktok page @viaviatiumalu, which has over 230K followers! Talk about entertainment, he’s hilarious! Also, be sure to check out his Fire Knife School on Instagram @siva_tauclub.
You can follow Rex on Facebook @rextiumalu, Instagram @rexytiumalu and his Fire Knife School on Instagram @Toa_Nomads.
If you’re on Oahu on April 5 & 6, 2020, be sure to come to Rex’s Fire Knife Dancing seminar. You can also participate in his second seminar on Maui on April 7 & 8, 2020. Follow him on social media for more information including locations and times!
“Pursuing your passions comes with trials and tribulations. You'll get a lot of No’s before you get Yes’. Think positively and remember what drives you. We do a lot of motivational and inspirational speaking because what we do is very dangerous. Hopefully when people read this they feel motivated to enjoy what they do and go out there and do it!”
~The Tiumalu Brothers
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