When it comes to dancing Caleb Rawiri-Tata has no words.
“I can’t really explain how much I love dancing, I can only feel. For me it’s an extension of myself.”
While the 22-year-old is busy working in show business with jobs at the Māngere Arts Centre, the Manukau Theatre Company and even Rainbow’s End, this wasn’t always the case.
Raised in kapa haka, thanks to his parents’ occupation as cultural performers at Auckland Museum, Caleb along with his siblings, grew up singing and dancing with confidence.
Then he auditioned for major projects, including the opportunity to be part of a dance crew run by one of his role-models, Parris Goebel and was unsuccessful. For the rising star who believed in his skills and was identified as a top Dance and Drama student at one Tree Hill College, it was a shock to his system.
“Straight after school I was in a dark place, I didn’t know where to go or what to do and I wasn’t sure what my goals were. I think I spent about four months doing absolutely nothing. I was trying to look for a place where I belonged and where I wanted to be but after that I thought, I’d take a break from trying.”
In 2015, Caleb’s friend suggested enrolling at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.
“The combination of kapa haka and performing arts, just that in itself made me want to come,” he says.
“You get to find yourself - to find new things that you didn’t know you had or could do.”
Caleb says it also gave him perspective of where he wanted to go as an entertainer, representing Cook Island Māori and Ngāti Tuwharetoa.
“It gave me an identity. In school I loved being a performer so when I came to the wānanga, going through all the performing arts styles; singing, dancing, acting, kapa haka, all of that together, I loved all of it,” he says.
“One goal was to be a choreographer and the wānanga gave me so many opportunities and really good insights into the industry.”
Over the last three years, as well as choreographing items for TWoA’s performing arts showcase Toi Tu Fest and a haka fusion performance for a Matariki event at Te Papa, he’s also been able to act in a TV comedy series and taken part in numerous theatre shows, including the highly popular Wizard of Ōtāhuhu which played to sold-out audiences.
Now that he’s doing what he loves, his advice to other school leavers is to believe in yourself more.
“Just open your shell and always keep it open. The place that I’m now in my life, I’m just enjoying what I’m doing right now.”
Besides producing work of great beauty, raranga and whatu offer a way to connect with tīpuna and to one's inner self, as well as providing spiritual healing, say kaiako and tauira involved in a community exhibition in Te Kūiti.