The following appeared in The Journal, August 12, 1987, pages 29-30:
Probably for the first time in the history of Des Plaines, a local company will be blessed by Hawaiian priests.
For Gwen Kennedy, the owner of the Barefoot Hawaiian, 1401 E. Oakton St., it means the real birth of her four-year-old company. Two Kahuna (Hawaiian priests) will fly to Des Plaines later this year and bless the office with ritual chanting, Hawaiian salt water, tea and meile leaves. The blessing is a symbol of good luck in her quest to spread the meaning of the word "Aloha" to the Chicago area.
"For me it is like a graduation," said Kennedy. "They are warding off evil spirits. It is a ritual like the American Indian. It is a form of good luck."
For the past four years Kennedy has owned and operated the Barefoot Hawaiian in Des Plaines which not only sells clothes and trinkets from the islands but operates a dance troupe which includes two fire dancers. Kennedy, a 1913 Maine West graduate, began dancing Polynesian style when she was three years old. She thought of the name "Barefoot Hawaiian" for her company because she has preferred to go barefoot ever since she can remember.
Kennedy flies to Hawaii every four months and there she learns new dances from dance masters. When she returns to Des Plaines, she teaches the 40 women and men in her dance troupe dances from four Polynesian cultures-- Hawaiian, Tahitian, Maori and Samoan. The dancers must undergo a rigorous training schedule from September until May. Not only do they learn how to dance, but they must learn Hawaiian culture, the language and customs.
"We don't train people to be nice, we train nice people," Ken- nedy said. "We only allow the Hawaiian spirit, on stage and off. It is a rigorous workout week after week. They have to fit the Hawaiian theme, whether they look Hawaiian or not. They have to want to learn it. My dancers are not stuck-up celebrities."
In all, the company performs 200 dances per year for firms that want to celebrate, for public events, or for firms that want to "show off" a little.
Kennedy says the fire dancers are the most expensive part of any celebration, guaranteed to impress whoever one wants to impress. The two fire dancers twirl knives of fire in the air for seven minutes and then eat the flame. Kennedy said this is very dangerous and firms that want fire dancers must sign insurance forms because of the fire hazard.
"The fire dance is a dance of courage," said Kennedy. "It is a passed down Samoan art. You wouldn't catch me doing it. But we've never had an accident."
Her company totes an impressive list of firms it has danced for, including Xerox, Chrysler Corp., Coca-Cola, Container Corp. of America, Eastman Kodak, Anheuser Busch, American Airlines, Walgreens, Shell Oil and Montgomery Wards. Kennedy said it was difficult, but she finally persuaded' Mr. Cub Emie Banks to do a little hula with her in Chicago during one of their performances.
One of their next performances will be with Mayor Harold Washington at the "Pride in Excellence" picnic in North Park Village. A number of dancers, generally about five, travel nationwide to perform before celebrating companies. Kennedy also provided costumes, choreography and Bloody Mary's coconuts for the 1981 Maine West production of South Pacific. The troupe also recently performed at the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce Lakefest at Lake Opeka. Kennedy said that she does not just hire anyone off the street to dance with her group. One does not have to look like a Hawaiian to get hired, but personality counts for a lot when trying to convey the meaning of the word "aloha."
"Never have I had a complaint about a dancer not looking Hawaiian," Kennedy said. "We want to show people what Hawaii is. They have to be professional and their personalities tops. They are not there to convince people they are Hawaiian. Yet people come up to them and ask them if they are."