What better way to Celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month than with Dragons and Drums? Mark your calendar for this Saturday May 7 at ArtsPark, Young Circle, Downtown Hollywood from 8-10 p.m.and be thoroughly entertained by Chinese Lion Dancers, Japanese fire sword dancers and Ronin Taiko drummers!

Who started this grand festivity?

“Karl Chuck, Program and Events Manager at ArtsPark,” shares Sandi Kaihelani Stevens, mother of three and founder of Ohana Arts, the event company that coordinates the entertainment behind the scenes and onstage. “Karl had a vision. He wanted to give something unique to Hollywood. Every year there are celebrations for Asian Pacific Heritage Month in Delray, Pompano, Miami, even Homestead, but none in Broward County. Karl wanted to bring it home.”

Stevens, a native of Hawaii, started Ohana Arts in early 2000. “I wanted to share my culture with my children but I knew the only way I could do that was to make a concerted effort. So I started teaching them how to hula in the yard.” Stevens turned it into a Keiki (children’s) class, and soon her daughter, Emma, and all her little friends were hula dancing. “It wasn’t long before some of the mothers inquired about learning so I started a “Kupuna” (adult) class.”

Word traveled and soon Stevens was invited to put together a workshop for the GirlScouts of Southeast Florida. “It was a 3-4 hour event, held once a month at the GirlScouts’ Oakland Park Service Center,” recalls Stevens. “It was so successful, the program developed into an Asian Pacific Patch.”

Ohana Arts and the Stevens Family

Stevens and her husband, Matt (a graphic artist) decided to turn this hobby into a business and  Ohana (meaning “family” in Hawaiian) Arts was born.   “We rented a ballet dance studio downtown Hollywood from Linda DeChaine (who still teaches at South Florida Ballet Theatre & School on Ocean Drive) and started teaching mothers and daughters.”

Lucas-Emma-Sandi-Matt-Ben-in-Hawaii Dragons and Drums Live at Hollywood's ArtsPark Sat., May 7
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Sandi and family from left to right: Lucas, Emma, Sandi, Matt and Ben

This lead to more opportunites and Stevens got invited to do a summer workshop for the YMCA of South Broward on Taft Street for their summer camp. “This led us to apply as a Broward Cultural Teaching Artist with the Broward Cultural Arts Division.

“Because our business was about teaching culture, specifically Hawaiian, Asian and Polynesian, the City of Hollywood approached us to do a Hawaiian Holiday Show, which we did 3 years in a row, 2007, 2008 and 2009.  We performed on a portable stage but then the City started work on the ArtsPark.”

12705795_1035108966512015_822822757680437841_n Dragons and Drums Live at Hollywood's ArtsPark Sat., May 7
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After the ArtsPark was built, Stevens got invited back to perform for the ribbon cutting ceremony. “We did a fire dance performance and that’s when we were approached by Chuck to do something unique and special for Hollywood.”

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“It has been a process and each year gets better,” says Stevens. “This is our 4th year in a row. The 2nd year, I was actually in Hawaii, so all the coordination was done virtually!”

Stevens had Hollywood’s Karen Bowie and Raquel Bosch Brito of Beauty Rush by Raquel take charge.

“They raised the bar for the show,” says Stevens, “bringing in a whole new level of entertainment. They got the Coral Springs Chinese Cultural Association, who brought 13 dragon dancers, 6 lion dancers and something new every year.” Last year they had a two-time champion fire dancer, just 12 years old, and his father, from Hawaii.

This year, Dragons and Drums will feature four fire dancers, the most they’ve ever had, a whole team of women dancers, Ronin Taiko drummers from the Taiko Academy, well known throughout Florida, Japanese fire sword dancers and more.

Admission is FREE! So bring your lawn chairs, blankets, and bodies, sit back, learn and experience the Hawaiian/Asian/Pacific culture. Here is a teaser from last year.