Raena Guzman: Student, Choreographer, Performer


Chloe Kitsu

     Senior Raena Guzman has taken on a new role as a choreographer for the Na Leo Choir at Mililani Waena Elementary School. She spends her Wednesday and Friday afternoons choreographing the choir’s songs for their upcoming performances held throughout the school year, and aims to give the students new experiences.

    “So, actually Na Leo is the Mililani Waena choir, it’s their concert choir that they open up to grades three through five, and it’s an after school program so the kids stay there on Wednesdays and Fridays and they learn about reading music and singing songs with a group,” said Guzman.

    Guzman was offered to be the program’s choreographer through her relationship with one of her teachers at MHS. “So, the director for Na Leo, Jenny Taira, her sister is Cari Taira, the acting teacher here. And I choreographed for the acting classes because I T.A. (Teaching Assistant) for the acting classes. So, Ms. Taira, the one at the high school, recommended me to Ms. Jenny at Waena because they were looking for a choreographer for their upcoming events,” said Guzman.

    Not only did she get the position through these connections, she also earned the position through her hard work in class. “Actually, my sister, Cari Taira, noticed that Raena stood out in her drama class, and recommended her to me for the position. Cari recognized that Raena had great potential for choreography, and was also a natural leader with kids of all ages,” said Na Leo Choir Director Jenny Taira.

    While working with the elementary schoolers, Guzman found unexpected challenges in working with a different age group than she normally does. “They have so much energy and it’s just a lot to funnel them and put them in the right mindset to be working on, ‘Let’s do this, at this specific time,’ so most of it’s just having them get their concentration and things like that are the hardest part. They’re really great, they’re very open to trying new things, especially because I was new to them at first. They were really open to me being a stranger and teaching them dances,” said Guzman.

    While Guzman has had no professional dance experience, she has been able to rely on her creativity and the knowledge she gained while participating in various musical productions to effectively teach the elementary class. “I’ve never taken a formal dance class ever in my entire life, but I’ve done musical theatre since I was a freshman and I guess that’s my only kind of formal training that I have,” said Guzman. “So it’s crazy that I’m even doing this, I think of myself as an amateur, but people are asking me to do things that I wouldn’t be expecting myself to do.”

    Guzman’s love for choreographing came from the results of her work. “I think after my first thing that I choreographed, I realized that it’s really interesting seeing other people do things that come out of your brain, because I think that I have kind of a weird imagination in a way. And I think people can do things that maybe they can’t always do, but when the final product is good and done then it’s completely a sense of, ‘Wow I did that,’ or, ‘Wow I helped put that together,’ and that’s why I decided to continue it,” said Guzman.

    Throughout the process of choreographing for the program, Guzman has grown not only as a leader, but as an artist. “I think Raena has gotten to be more assertive and command more leadership with the students, and has also gotten more confident and creative in her choreography.  The more she has gotten to know the students and what they are capable of, her ideas have grown and choreography has become more complex,” said Jenny Taira.

    For Guzman, the response from the students has been the most fulfilling part of the job. “I think the most rewarding part is actually the students because it’s really funny because I always see them everywhere. Like I was just working at carnival over the weekend, and I saw at least four of the students just from the choir. And they all say hi to me and they call me Ms. Raena and they always ask me about what we’re doing in our choir. I think just having them know me is rewarding in itself,” said Guzman.

    Overall, Guzman hopes that through her choreography the students take in not only the art, but the experience. “I really just want them to feel like they’re accomplishing something or like learning new things because that’s all you can really give to the students is new experiences and new friends, and things like that. So when I teach them, I hope that I’m pushing them out of their comfort zones too and I hope I’m allowing them to try things that they’ve never tried before, so they have that sense of experience,” said Guzman.

    The Na Leo Choir continues to work hard in practice for their upcoming performances.