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Meet Kalei Akaka

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kalei Akaka.

Kalei, before we jump into specific questions about your work, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Hi, I was born in Hawaii and raised in Florida with my parents and two younger sisters. When my parents asked me what I wanted to do as a kid I told them Karate. It was just by chance that the karate dojo was in the same building as a dance studio. I took one karate class and saw the dancers. I immediately changed my mind as a six-year-old and started dancing, the first words out of my mouth after my first dance class was “I was born to dance!” I started competing when I was seven years old and just fell in love with art. My younger sisters even started dancing and soon our whole lives became about dance.

Just school and dance every day until I turned 18. With no clue as to what “I wanted to do with my life” I got a scholarship from the dance team at the local college and got my Associates Degree in Business. Meanwhile, my dance coach got myself and a few other girls on the dance team an audition with a big talent agency in Atlanta called Bloc South. I got signed and I thought it was really cool but I didn’t exactly know what to do with it considering I lived six hours away from ATL and I didn’t even know I could have a career in dance.

I was teaching at the studio I grew up in and working two other jobs but I struggled knowing I wasn’t happy with what I was pursuing in school… so I looked into some dance programs in LA to find out more and found a three month dance study that cost a lot of money, but with my parents help I worked my butt off and made it happen. I arrived excited and naive with the hopes that being in LA surrounded by dance would help me find my path. I ended up learning a lot, falling in love with the city and decided to move to LA permanently. After speaking with my agents in Atlanta about the move they informed me I would need to lose weight in order to make it in LA as a dancer.

This totally threw me off because no one has ever told me my weight was an issue. This brought on a whole load of problems within myself. They also told me the competition was much harder out here and from there on out life just got so complicated (as it does). I then made the move after months of saving up and things just didn’t go the way I planned. I definitely have had some great times, I’ve grown, and I’ve even booked a lot, without losing weight I might add.

I could finally call myself a professional in the entertainment industry and I’m very proud of all I’ve accomplished despite all I’ve been through. But as life goes I ended up tearing my ACL and my Meniscus in my right knee at a rehearsal… and I felt like my life was over! I had to get surgery and my recovery is still going on as we speak. I’ve lived my whole life centered around dance and now everything has changed. I have finally come to peace with the fact that continuing with hours of dance rehearsal for full shows and long days on set of physically putting my knees through hell is not the path for me.

This led me to spend more time as a choreographer, which I also enjoy! I have now produced and choreographed three short films dedicated to raising awareness to world issues like domestic violence, human trafficking, and gun violence. All forms of art have always inspired me and made me happy. My goal for the future is to continue to create works of art whether it be producing short films, acting, dancing, singing, writing, and drawing. I just want to inspire other artists to use their art for good and make a positive difference in the world. I’ve always loved creating and I know this is just the beginning to a significantly unique journey.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
As smooth as a cactus! Hah, I believe everyone has their life issues and inner demons, and especially in LA, there is something about this place that people in my home town will never understand. Like they say… it’s a “dog eat dog world.”

And yea I’ve gone through a lot in such a short amount of time… like trying to escape my ex who tried to kill me, being in a new city with no family, moving several times because I can’t afford the rent, getting robbed, my knee injury, and even losing my job. The list is endless, but I try not to dwell on all the bad stuff because it’s not fair to myself. I have worked so hard to get where I am and the negatives don’t deserve that much space. The challenges that we come across are inevitable, it’s how we handle them and learn from them that matters.

Tell us more about your work.
I don’t have my own company yet, but one day I want to own a non-profit specializing in women’s support. Whether it be helping women to escape domestic abusers, psychological help, or even to have just a safe space for women.

I believe art can help everyone and is a very useful therapy tool for any kind of PTSD. There are so many creative businesses I want to dip my toes into. I guess we will just have to wait and see what happens.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
The two proudest moments of my career so far has been booking my own spot on a Snap Chat Show called “Nail The Look.” and also booking a spot on “attn:” for Jordan Peel’s Lorena Documentary. I mention these two because they were similar in away. Not only was I at my heaviest weight when I booked these shows, but I got to be creative and genuine. I had the chance to tell a story about a moment in my life when someone took the light out of me physically, verbally, and mentally. A story that oftentimes doesn’t get told and needs to be told more.

On “Nail The Look” Season two I met so many amazing and kind people on set and I also got styled by Celebrity stylist Sophie Lopez to try on some amazing clothes. These two gigs meant a lot to me because I know that thousands of people saw them, and I had the chance to impact someone’s life tremendously.

Who knows? Maybe there’s a girl out there that thinks she can escape an abusive relationship because I did too, or maybe someone feels like they to can work in this industry even though someone told them they weren’t skinny enough just like me. If I made one person feel more relatable, or special, or even inspire them at all, I’m doing my job.

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Image Credit:
Mark Harris II
Andrew Stiltner
Kyle Derosier

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