Beth McKinnon Hunt: ‘Kiwi & Kangaroo’ days

[Reprinted from, the Center’s 50th-anniversary website, which is no longer active. Interview and 2013 photo captured by Mike Foley during the Mormon Pacific Historical Society conference panel on “haole dancers at the PCC,” held at BYU–Hawaii on September 7, 2013.]

From OZ to Hawaii: On her way to Laie in 1963 by boat from Newcastle, NSW, Australia, Beth met Marie Nin [Paongo] who boarded the same boat with a Maori group in New Zealand, and quickly became inseparable “Kiwi & Kangaroo” friends.

Naturally, she began to hang with the Maoris, which led to her PCC dance career.

She later married George Hunt (who later took the Samoan chiefly titles Pātū and Tupuola, and passed away in 2022); and, since they both graduated from Church College of Hawaii (renamed BYU–Hawaii in 1974), they lived in Samoa.

Beth recalls early PCC nights: In those days, we only had the night show on Saturdays, and then we added Fridays.

I tagged along with Marie, including the rehearsals on Saturday mornings. I’d always loved dancing, and I figured as long as I was there waiting for her, I might as well learn something. So, I learned the routines, and had a wonderful time at the back of the stage.

‘We need you to sub’: Then Larry Nielsen, who was the artistic director of the show at that time, came to me one Saturday and said, “Maile Richards has sprained her ankle. We need you to sub.”

I thought he was joking. “No.” He said, “Go and dye your hair. You’re on tonight.” So, with some assistance, we died my dull-blonde hair raven black, and I went on.

I loved it. Then I thought my great moment had passed because Maile had recovered that week, even though I thought, gee, that was wonderful, and how I wish I could do it again. Larry, bless his heart, said, “Do it. You’re in there.”

That was how I became part of the Maori show. That was back when Huia Christy was in charge of the section.

Later, when Te Aroha Nui group came, we were all fired, because they took over for New Zealand.

That Fall we got back on stage again, this time with the blessing of [the late] Valetta Nepia [Jeremiah], who took over as the instructor.

Don’t think I didn’t make

mistakes, but she pushed me until I became better and better, until I could even take solos.

Joining the Hawaiian and Tahitian sections: It was at that time that Sunday Girl [Kekua-okalani Mariteragi], was still a high school student cheerleader for Friday night football games, so I got to sub-in for her in the Hawaiian and Tahitian sections (on Friday nights).

My first Tahitian section was a hoot, because although I knew all the dances, I figured I would be standing in the back, but they had not told me when to go out when the line reverses. There were two ways to go… and I quickly realized I was by myself.

I had been trained as a teenager in ballet class that no matter what happens on stage, you never let a mistake look like a mistake.

When I finally got off stage, Erena [Mapuhi] asked, “Who gave you a solo tonight?” [laughter!]

When Jack Regas, a big Hollywood choreographer, came in, I figured the first thing he would do is fire the haoles. I was thinking, there goes my beautiful career; but bless his heart, he kept me on.

Drafted into the Samoan section: After I married a Samoan, Vātau [Galea’i Neria] wondered why I was dancing Maori, Tahitian, and Hawaiian, but not Samoan. She said, “Get in there, girl, and learn Samoan.” That’s how I added a fourth section.

Special times: These were some of the special times, and when we left in 1970 to go to Samoa, I would always dream of Hawaii — always PCC-related dreams.

There was a similar theme to them: I was dancing at PCC, or going to dance at PCC, and before I could get onto the stage, something always stopped me from being on stage or part of the group. This happened many times in my dreams.

The first time we came back to Laie for a reunion, it was something that fixed it for me, because, after so many years, I was able to get back on that stage… and I’ve never had the dream since. That was a fulfillment of that dream.

When my husband told me he didn’t know if we could come to the 50th reunion, I told him he could stay back home, but I was going to get back on this stage even if I had to crawl, because this could be my last hurrah.

Sharing her PCC experience: In the years we’ve been in Samoa,

Beth McKinnon Hunt in 2013 (photo by Mike Foley)
Before marrying George Hunt of Samoa, Beth McKinnon Hunt left Australia to attend Church College of Hawaii in 1963, and ended up dancing in the Polynesian Cultural Center night show. (2013 photo by Mike Foley)

I’ve also been instrumental in teaching several dance groups from among the 800-900 students at CCWS. 

As a little girl, Delsa [Atoa Moe] was one of my first students; Kap Tafiti was another one. This is something that I have treasured — not only being able to learn Polynesian dance culture but to pass it on.

I was always very conscious that I had to be correct, and in my case, I always felt the pressure not only to do it but to do it right.

So, when Logoitino “Logo” Apelu was the Church Educational System principal in Samoa [and later vice president of PCC Operations], he called me and [the late] Tu’ifao Tufuga up one time and asked if we had a dance group.

Performing for the king and queen of Tonga: I said, I don’t think so. Why? He said the king and queen of Tonga were making a state visit to Samoa, and at one of the state banquets, our school cultural group had been invited to present the entertainment.

We pulled in the high honor society because we figured they would be quick on the uptake, and in three days taught them the routines of the six island groups, choreographed and costumed them . . . and people raved over it. That was all PCC training.

I’ve also taught groups in Australia with my daughter [Tui Kay Hunt Ikihega], who has now inherited the legacy. That was also based on PCC training.

How very, very grateful I am to those people: To Marie [who passed away in October 2023 in Utah] for initiating it, to Larry, Jack, Vātau, and of course, I have to include my husband, George.

I loved it. I loved the fact we’ve had prophets with vision.