Las Vegas Sun

January 18, 2018

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MIKA FONOTI: 1955-2007

Ancient Samoan warriors would do the traditional wild Ailao dance, each twirling his nifo oti - war knife - in preparation for battle.

In modern times, fire was added to the ancient ceremonial dances, and they became wildly popular at luaus and in Polynesian dance revues.

On Tuesday, fire knife dancers from shows all over Las Vegas gathered at the Hawaiian Marketplace at Las Vegas Boulevard and Harmon Avenue to dance in honor of one of their fallen master performers.

Mika Fonoti, a Las Vegas resident of 15 years, died of liver and kidney failure on June 21. He was 52.

Fonoti performed in the Hot Lava show at the Riviera Hotel and at other local venues and spread his people's culture during several world tours.

Traditional American services for the father of two will be at 3 p.m. today at Palm Mortuary-Cheyenne. But Tuesday night was the time for Polynesians to remember the accomplished performer in their own way.

"Mika was proud to bring the traditional dances of Samoa to the people of the world," said Carla Marrero, a dancer for 20 years in the Hot Lava show who performed many times with Fonoti. "He opened for (the late) Don Ho. He loved to perform."

Runi Tafeaga, producer of Hot Lava and a former fire knife dancer, said Fonoti was a performer "from the old school " of fire knife dancing

That meant he danced in the tradition of the father of Samoan fire knife dancing, the late Letuli Olo Misilagi, who in 1946 added fire to the traditional knife dance.

"Mika was consistent - constantly working to improve his craft - and he was dependable," Tafeaga said.

Born Mika T. Fonoti Lee-Lo on May 1, 1955, in Samoa, Fonoti was a well-seasoned fire knife dancer before he first performed in Las Vegas in the late 1980s.

He also performed at the Westward Ho and at the Sahara Hotel's Don the Beachcomber restaurant, Marrero said.

Late in his dancing career, Fonoti also worked as a mechanic for a local car dealership. He stopped dancing two years ago because of his ailment, Tafeaga said.

Fonoti's survivors include a son and a daughter.