We had the good fortune of connecting with Dawn Mahealani Douglas and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Dawn Mahealani, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
As an entertainer, I have always believed that success depends on how well you connect with other people. This is especially true of entertainers in the live events industry. The entertainers I look up to have the kind of charismatic personalities that draw people to them–that make people want to watch them and engage with them. It’s like magic, and this magic comes from a deep passion for their art and sharing it with the world. I think I became this type of entertainer when I decided to focus solely on the Polynesian performing arts. I started my company performing solo in 2017 and was astounded at booking over 200 shows that year. I have always loved entertaining audiences since I’ve been doing it from the time I was old enough to walk, but I was also educating people about different cultures they may not otherwise be exposed to in this part of the country. Not only were they having a fun experience watching a show, but they were walking away having learned something new. In Polynesian entertainment, we always include opportunities for the audience to learn songs and dances after they watch us, and they are also learning a little bit of history and our values such as ohana (family) and aloha aina (love of the land) at the same time. This is what draws clients and audiences to us and keeps them coming back, as well as telling their friends about us. Beyond the show, I also strive to build relationships with the people I meet along the way. I consider clients and audiences ohana from the first interaction. People have a need to feel important and to feel heard. I know that people are coming to us to provide entertainment for some of their most important life events from birthdays to weddings as well as those who want to provide entertainment and education for public and corporate events. I take time to listen to make sure I’m able to meet their expectations and provide guidance in planning based on my expertise. These relationships often continue after the event as we work together on future events or just keep a friendship going. My clients and audiences enrich my life as I hope I do theirs.
What should our readers know about your business?
My company, Mahealani’s Polynesian Entertainment, specializes in providing authentic Hawaiian and Polynesian entertainment for any size event. The cast consists of female dancers, male dancers, child dancers, fire performers, emcees, and musicians. After my first year in business as a solo Hula and Tahitian dancer booking over 200 shows, I left my college teaching job to focus on my business full-time and started training other women and men to perform with me. My goal was to create a stage show like you see at hotels and attractions in Hawaii and including the major Pacific Islands groups of Hawaii, Tahiti, Aotearoa (New Zealand), and Samoa since there was nothing like that in this part of the country. I’m proud that I’ve been able to accomplish that despite the challenges. With the type of entertainment we provide being so specific and so unique to this area, it has been challenging to keep up with my own training, which I travel to Hawaii for frequently, and to find others I can train here. Our dances tell the stories of the Hawaiian and Polynesian people and routines are passed down through the generations in halau (hula schools) and other dance schools. A dancer must have the passion for learning these stories and a commitment to practicing the dances. I have found friends and others have been referred to me who stay with the company for a year or more, but recruiting has to be ongoing as people’s life situations change with other jobs and family obligations. I don’t have a pool of talent to choose from such as cities with larger populations of Polynesian people, yet somehow, I keep a full cast and the business keeps growing to the point of booking over 300 shows a year now. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that I must be the one to create my own vision, and I have the power to do it myself. I have been searching for a male partner for the past 3 years, but I have pressed forward with getting the training I need to pass on to male dancers for instance and have reached out to male dancers in other cities for temporary help when needed. This is also a lesson in being resourceful. Sometimes you have to think out-of-the-box when what you need is not right at your fingertips. I’m working on building a legacy that I can pass down to a younger generation of dancers to carry on in the future, so that our cultural traditions can continue to be shared in this part of the country.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I actually have guest performers visit from out-of-town to do shows with us whenever possible, and I try to show them the best of the city while they are here. Atlanta has so much to offer as both a metropolitan city and a place where you can explore the great outdoors. To experience the city, I take friends for a day exploring in the downtown area including Zoo Atlanta, Georgia Aquarium, Centennial Olympic Park including a ride on SkyView Atlanta, and I may even include a walk along the beltline from Ponce City Market to Piedmont Park. To experience the outdoors, some of my favorite hikes are the many trails along the Chattahoochee River, mountain hikes like Stone Mountain and Kennesaw Mountain, and waterfall hikes a little farther north like Amicalola Falls and Tallulah Gorge. Activities such as SUP, kayaking, canoeing, horseback riding, and even white water rafting can be fun. I also try to give a sampling of the diverse restaurants and entertainment venues we have here.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My success is thanks to God, my parents, and my kumu (master hula teacher). I will never say that I am a great dancer, but rather that God gave me the gift of dance and positioned me to share it with others to achieve His greater purpose. This goes back to the question of what I believe makes me successful being the ability to connect with other people and make them feel special and loved. The Polynesian performing arts is my platform to do that. My parents have also helped to shape who I am today by putting me on stage at a young age and instilling the motivation to take risks in the belief that anything is possible. My kumu has been a blessing to me by sharing her wisdom and entrusting me to carry it to others, and I can’t thank her enough for how she has changed my life for the better.