Born to Dance movie star Sione Tui swaps pālangi suit for Tongan vala at premiere

Before attending the premiere of Born to Dance at the Manukau Event Cinemas this evening Tongan film star Sione Tui struggled to accept his mother’s plea to put away the new suit he had just bought for the occasion and wear his Tongan vala.

His father Viliami Tui told Kaniva News outside the Event Centre that it took time before Sione decided to wear Tongan formal attire, which consist of a tupenu, ta’ovala, kote and hekesi.

Viliami was emotional and tried to compose himself while looking at the other men at the function wearing suits and palangi clothes.

Sione, a 40-year old Tongan-Auckland born actor, is starring in Born to Dance with Stan Walker, Tia Maipi, Paris Goebel and American actress Kherington Payne.

Sione Tui BD
Sione Tui (right) in Born to Dance. Photo/Youtube

The movie is directed by Tammy Davis and is the New Zealand’s first hip hop dance movie. The film is packed with dancing from three-time world hip-hop dance champion Paris Goebels and her dance crew, the Royal Family.

It will be released publicly tomorrow, September 24.

Sione said the movie had a great story about family, poverty, loyalty and the importance of chasing your dreams.

“This movie reflects on all of our youth who are raised in other countries, especially New Zealand, Australia and even the States,” he said.

“It’s our story of struggle to pursue what we love going against all odds.

“Our youth have a lot of negative influences out there pulling them towards gangs, drugs, suicide and teen pregnancy.”

Stan W
Australian Idol winner Stan Walker and American dancer Kherington Payne also star in the film. Photo/Youtube

The inspiring film shows the power of youth when trying to be positive and the power of passion. The heart of it is youth and relationships through.

The film industry

Sione has been in the film industry for about 15 years and he said there were not many Tongans in the field.

He said he had a passion for filming when he was growing up.

“I always wanted to be an actor and performer,” he said.

“A lot of Tongan parents push their children to do jobs that have security such as a doctor, lawyer, and business and so forth, which is good, but there’s a lot of pressure that comes with it if it’s not their passion.

“Being a father of four I try to nurture any talent in my children and support them to succeed.”

Sione said working in the film industry was not easy.

Dance Sione
Tui said he encouraged his kids to be passionate about something. Photo/Youtube

He said Polynesians and Tongans were cast in stereotypical roles that reflected how mainstream society saw them.

“We are more beautiful and exotic than how we get portrayed,” he said.

However, he said things were getting better and more Polynesians were being given lead roles and influential roles in film and TV.

“A lot of roles I’ve played are away from my culture. I’ve played Hawai’ian, African American, Latino and Maori roles to name a few.

“I see acting as a craft and an art form I went to drama school to better my understanding of it and to be taking seriously as an actor. I didn’t want to be seen as a person who looked like he walked off a rugby field and into an audition room.”

Tongan background

Sione was born in 1975 in Auckland and grew up in Manurewa in South Auckland. His father Viliami is from Ha’asini and Talafo’ou. His mother is Nenase Tui from Ma’ufanga and Hofoa.

Sione T
SIone Tui in Born to Dance. This is his fourth film role having already starred in Sione’s Wedding, The Hobbit, and the international blockbuster Battleship. Photo/Youtube

He is the oldest son of nine children. One of his sisters died in Tonga when Sione was five years.

“I never forget her and acknowledge she lived,” he said.

“I call myself a Kiwi of Tongan descent and heritage, but I identify 100 percent with Tonga as my tofi’a (heritage). I‘m proud and love my Tongan roots and pay homage to my beloved parents for trying to do better for us and working hard to raise us. Everything I do is to make my parents and all of my family proud.”

Sione said his Tongan background played a huge influence on his love for the craft.

He said he truly believed the performing arts were in the blood of Tongans because of their culture.

“It’s in our way of worship, our songs, and our tau’olunga (dance),” he said.

“We’re naturals the same way we are athletes. I just wish we supported our artists the same way we support our athletes because Tonga has a lot to contribute to the world. We have stories, beliefs and beauty that I would love the world to see.”

Dance Sione T
The story explores the tension created when a father from a military background pushes his son into joining the army, when the son would rather dance for a living. Photo/Youtube

He is determined that one day he will direct some stories from Tongan perspectives and not people from other cultures.

“We need more Tongan writers, producers, directors and more Tongan journalists and see them supported,” Sione said.

“It is so easy for people to sit at home and criticise. We are our own worst enemy. We put ourselves down and that doesn’t help us as a people. Some people born outside Tonga lose their connection to the mainland.

“I myself am the opposite. I feel the need to connect with it, to honour it and to honour my family because we are Tongan and we are proud no matter where we are in the world. I’ll do my best to not embarrass that, but honour it.”


Sione had a message for our youth: “If you want to get into it, the first attitude to have is to speak up and have a voice. This business and craft is not for the faint of heart, trust me. Your ego and insecurities will be tested and our humble nature taken advantage of. Every time I get approached by our youth about wanting to pursue acting I ask them: ‘Why?’ A lot of them responded  saying they wanted to be famous’.”

He said he advised these people that this was not a good idea because if that was their goal, they would get hurt.

Fame was the result of a lot of hard work. It was not guaranteed,  nor was it a form of wealth.

He said a lot of success came from a combination of talent, patience, consistency, self-development, sacrifice and timing.

“For every TV and movie role I got I had about 20 to 40 auditions where I came close and then was told no, or I was too big or the wrong culture or whatever,” he said.

“I had to pick myself up and go try again with my own self-belief.

“In saying all of that my self-belief and pride in who I am and what I represent drives me to go forward.

“My family, friends and being that Tongan actor out there when there aren’t many drives me and I’m proud to give it a shot.

“A lot of Hollywood personalities from the likes of Liam Neeson, Rihanna, Taylor Kitch, Peter Burg, Peter Jackson just to name a few can say they’ve worked with a Tongan actor on their movies and not mean security or catering,” he laughed.

The main points

  • Tongan film star Sione Tui lined up for the premiere of Born to Dance at the Manukau Event Centre this evening, but first he had to agree to his mother’s request for him to wear his Tongan vala rather than a palangi suit.
  • Tui, who honours his Tongan culture, is starring in Born to Dance with Stan Walker, Tia Maipi, Paris Goebel and American actress Kherington Payne.
  • The movie is directed by Tammy Davis and is the New Zealand’s first hip hop dance movie.
  • It opens publicly tomorrow, September 24.

For more information

Born to Dance (IMDB)

The rise and rise of Paris Goebel

Sometimes when a business is growing, it needs a little help.

Right now Kaniva News provides a free, politically independent, bilingual news service for readers around the world that is absolutely unique. We are the largest New Zealand-based Tongan news service, and our stories reach Tongans  wherever they are round the world. But as we grow, there are increased demands on Kaniva News for translation into Tongan on our social media accounts and for the costs associated with expansion. We believe it is important for Tongans to have their own voice and for Tongans to preserve their language, customs and heritage. That is something to which we are strongly committed. That’s why we are asking you to consider sponsoring our work and helping to preserve a uniquely Tongan point of view for our readers and listeners.

Latest news

Related news