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Polynesian Renaissance
By Robert Warne - November 26, 2001

Ending up handling claims for a living, out of all possible occupations in life, is like landing on an island in the middle of a great ocean. Much like those that set out onto the sea and settled the islands of the South Pacific, aspects of Sr. Staff Adjuster for Frank Gates Acclaim in Newport Beach, Angela Legaspi’s life is reminiscent of the lives of the early Polynesians.

"Mana" Supernatural—Divine Power

While early European explorers traveled along the coastlines of continents, Polynesian families (ohana) explored the open sea in large double-hulled canoes. Relying on memory, ancient Polynesians used the wind, waves, constellations, birds and seaweed to guide them across the vast South Pacific from one tiny spec of land to another. Through their travels, the Polynesian people settled the islands of Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti, New Zealand, Hawaii, Easter Island and the Marquesas.

The early Polynesians enjoyed the extensive vegetation, the abundance of seafood, birds and fruit the islands offered to sustain them. They lived in paradise until the 19th century when European explorers introduced diseases and cultural differences that eventually began to erode, and in some cases, erase the Polynesian culture.

Polynesian legends and history are inseparable. Mythical gods represent different aspects of Polynesian culture and life. Hula was used to retell history and preserve their past, as well as honor their chiefs (ali'i), gods and goddesses (akua). Up until the arrival of Europeans, Polynesians didn’t have a written language. Their oral tradition passed on cultural beliefs, ceremonies and practices from generation to generation.

Hula & Claims

An example of how the Polynesian culture has been passed on from generation to generation is embodied in Legaspi’s life.

Inspired by her mother’s and aunt’s love of Polynesian dancing, Legaspi started learning the different dances when she was eight-years-old. Now with three daughters of her own, they too are passionate about Polynesian dancing.

As a family, Legaspi and her husband Alex are devoted to preserving the tradition of Polynesian dancing. Through their company Sea Breeze Polynesian Entertainers, the Legaspi’s keep the spirit of Polynesia alive. Their group performs at a variety of events including weddings, corporate functions/picnics/luaus, birthdays, anniversaries and graduation parties.

Last February, Legaspi traveled to Hawaii with a Costa Mesa group of approximately 170 dancers and musicians ranging in age from four to 65. The group, known as Lokelani’s Rhythm of the Islands, went there to compete in the Tahiti Fete of Hilo.

Lokelani’s Rhythm of the Islands was the only group competing from Southern California. Two or three groups were from Northern California, but the majority of the groups were from Hawaii.

As a group, Lokelani’s Rhythm of the Islands took first place in the Otea (Tahitian Dance that is fast with drums). The group also took first in the Aparima (Tahitian form of hula). And they took first for music and traditional costume. The drummers also placed first for their skill of playing a Toere (hollowed out log).

As a soloist performing in her first competition, Legaspi was honored with a third place finish in the Masters division.

This first competition sparked an interest for Legaspi who now has a calendar dotted with upcoming competitions she plans on attending. "In April my daughters will dance in a competition in Merced. And in July the whole group will compete in San Jose."

"I will also be going to Tahiti in March to take part in a week long festival." The Lokelani’s have been invited to the event by the Tahitian government, who selected specific halaus (dance groups) from around the world to attend.

This event will be an opportunity for all the different halaus to share and represent their style or interpretation of Polynesian dance.

Legaspi also teaches private dance lessons two to three nights a week. She teaches mainly hula and Tahitian dances. "My goal is to have all of my students perform with me."

A workers’ compensation defense attorney has been taking lessons from Legaspi for the last two years.

Generous in her compliments about the natural dancing talent of the attorney Legaspi says, "She’s been dancing in the shows with me for the last year-and-a-half and is very good. I’ve tried to pay her, but she refuses payment, and says that it’s her release."

"This is how I bridge my two lives together," says Legaspi regarding teaching someone in the workers’ compensation industry.

Island of Happenstance

Legaspi was introduced to the business of worker’s compensation when she was 19 and took a summer job as a secretary for Transamerica in Costa Mesa. She worked for the hearing representative and the workers’ compensation manager.

"They hired me because of how fast I could type, not because I knew anything about workers’ compensation. I had no idea what workers’ compensation was all about."

The hearing rep she worked for at the time was none other than The California Workers' Compensation Enquirer Magazine Founder/Publisher, Elliot B. Machit. "When things would slow down he’d have me type up some of his articles."

Upon completion of her secretary assignment Legaspi spent the next four-and-a-half years handling medical only claims.

Since that first summer in 1985 she’s worked for Safeco, General Accident, Western Growers, Pacific Eagle and Sumitomo Marine Management.

Currently, at Frank Gates, Legaspi handles state claims.

"I enjoy the different people my job brings me into contact with."

With 16 years of claims handling experience behind her Legaspi jokes, "I always say to myself, what else can I do?"

"If it were summertime year round here in California, I could just dance."


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