Now Reading: Our People, Their Stories: Autumn/Winter 17

Our People, Their Stories: Autumn/Winter 17

Tash and Kenny, couple

Nothing in common

After Tash sucked up the courage to ask Kenny for his number, it still took weeks for Kenny to ask her out. In fact, “Kenny didn’t believe that I would actually turn up, so he did a drive by twice to make sure I was there. Unlike other couples, they have little hobbies or interests in common. Tash insists they’re “literally like chalk and cheese” however she quickly realised that what drew them together was something more important; “in the end we knew what really connected us, it was our values - what we stand for and what we believe in… Interests and hobbies are something you can adapt to, but when you have a deep connection where another person can understand your true self, now that right there is the WOW moment.”

For Kenny, one thing above all is key to overcoming their differences “We comprise on a lot things to make each other happy” and Tash agrees “We always meet halfway, can’t always be one sided. I would say this is what keeps us grounded.” He sees their differences, and how they’ve transcended them, as what sets their relationship apart. “What makes our relationship special is that we have learned to love one another for who we are and what attracted us in the first place, and not try to change each other’s personalities just because we are together.”

Growth and change

Through their four years together, and with all their differences, they’ve both had to grow and help each other to do so. For Tash, this growth came from the very start “When I met Kenny I was going through a lot in my life at that time; there were lots of challenges that I was facing, and I was struggling to keep myself together in my life… But Kenny took me as I was. He brings out a side of me that no one else could see.” Tash credits Kenny for helping her grow into a strong woman. Kenny has helped me grow into a strong woman. His tough love has taught me how to take challenges head on and to never give up! He knows how to make feel empowered. With him I feel I can do absolutely anything! He's my strength, he really is my strength.”

Tash isn’t the only one who’s embraced change, Kenny has grown too. “A lot of his friends tell me that since we've been together he's just blossomed. When I first met Kenape he had no clue about kids but he also understood how important my nieces are to me. He embraced it all and really took on the uncle role… Together we provide for these kids like they our very own.” Undoubtedly though, it’s his drive for his own personal growth that inspires Tash the most. “Kenny’s biggest achievement is definitely allowing himself to be who he wants to be and not letting the world or even society tell him otherwise. He takes full control of his life to ensure that no matter where he ends up, he will be happy with the decisions he’s made. To be a part of his life is just incredible.”

Both embrace their own flaws, and each other’s “One thing that Kenny has taught me in this relationship that really stands out is that our flaws make us who we are and that I need to appreciate them more because one day they will mould me into something that I probably didn’t realise I can become. We work because we understand each other’s faults; we work because Kenny knows how to turn my crazy into something we can both laugh at; we work because after a bad moment we learn about what good we get out of it.”

Family is everything

For Kenny, it’s always been so important to make his family proud. “My parents sacrificed everything to leave their homeland just so they can give me and my siblings a better life that they never had.” He now has multiple university degrees under his belt. “I’m so grateful my dad also got to witness it before he passed away. I’m also in a position to give back to my community, by being involved in various community groups which strive to lift the achievements of Pacific People to the point where they are self-sufficient and less reliant on government for assistance and services.”

Illness and loss are a natural part of families, and these are struggles they’ve had to face during their relationship. Kenny lost his father in 2015, and credits Tash with pulling him through this dark period. “Sadly he won’t get to see that or my future kids growing up. I know without her by my side, my whole world could have turned upside down; but we managed to pull through it, even if it meant sometimes she bore the brunt of my frustrations at coming to grips with losing a love one and questioning why things happen in life.” Tash is inspired by Kenny’s love for his family. “He has such a caring heart; watching him care for his mother (who has Parkinson’s and dementia) really showed me how much love he is willing to offer to the most important people in his life.”

Making sacrifices

Their drive for personal growth, and the growth of others, means that sacrifice is an inherent part of their relationship. For Tash, the thing they sacrifice most is time. “This man holds down two jobs to provide for me as well as our families (even though he doesn’t need to). He also helps manage the rugby league team that he’s been a part of since childhood. He is also a part of the Specifically Pacific Committee who help organise the Polyfest as well as the careers expo in Christchurch.”

Tash sometimes finds this hard. “He is a busy, busy man and I often complain about how much he works, but he always puts things in perspective so I understand what it means to be a provider as well as how important it is to give back to the community.” She admits they put themselves last sometimes “The one thing that we lose out on is ‘What about us? What do we need for us?’ (but) he taught me that, that family is important, no matter what and you know helping people is the most important.” Tash credits one thing in particular as the key to overcoming their sacrifices of time and self. “We know how to communicate and when is the right time to communicate as well.”

Although Kenny isn’t much of a talker, his actions speak for themselves and inspire everyone he meets (including us) “Kenny will do absolutely anything for anyone, even if it means it’s out of his way; no is not an option for Kenny.” We saw this first hand during our campaign shoot - for Kenny he sacrificed his humility and comfort zone for Tash, “It means a lot for Tash to be a part of this campaign. If this is what it takes… I would gladly strut my stuff just to put a smile on her face and to let her shine in the lime light.”

Marcel and Astrid, family

Starting over, twice

Astrid’s life and that of her family have been defined by big moves. She and her husband immigrated to New Zealand with their young family in tow. “That was a really big thing. No job to come to. We had enough money behind us (which was just as well) otherwise we wouldn't have been able to come in to New Zealand…. It took three weeks to find a job.” They settled in Gisborne, got jobs at the hospital, and poured their heart and soul into their house. Even from a young age, Marcel knew how much they sacrificed to realise their dream. “[They] used to work two to three jobs in Gisborne... So [they] didn't have any debt.”

For Astrid, it was really hard going. “It took us eleven years to get it all done.” But it wasn’t to last. “My husband was made redundant, and we’d just finished the house.” The only option was to relocate. “We had to start all over again when we came to Auckland.” Marcel and his father moved first. “I remember when we came up from Gisborne, I would have to go and stay with people that I really know.” Astrid admits it was hard on him. “Marcel had to go to a whole new school and make new friends… It was a huge change for him coming from Gisborne to a big city like Auckland.”

Great expectations

Astrid’s high standards and determination extended to her home and family; for a young Marcel, this wasn’t easy. “As a child, I found our relationship always hard and challenging. [She] was very strict on me growing up, with extremely high expectations and standards about the way things should be done - from the simple things like how to sit correctly in a chair to, making a bed, manners, dress code and hair styles, through to the way you act when you have friends over.”

He believes this was influenced by his mother’s strict upbringing in Holland, vastly different to the New Zealand Marcel grew up in. “I always found there was a strong contrast between how our family life was and that of my friends.” Nowadays Marcel is more reflective. “It was hard, but I look back now and I can see [she] taught me amazing manners, good morals and good values, and I'm thankful for it.” Having young children of his own has given him perspective. “I'm experiencing the same things with my kids, and I know now that it's not easy.”

Astrid was also proud hostess, but as an energetic child Marcel found these things difficult to understand. “I would get really frustrated… We'd have people coming over, and Mum had it all organized for when the guests came. The table would be set, and I just wanted to eat. I wanted to have fun.” Now he gets to experience it himself. “She is the most considerate and loving person you can imagine, and although it didn’t always come across that way when I was younger, I can now see why she did things the way she did... Now when I come over, there’s a nice wine or beer waiting for me, or a coffee; I'm treated like royalty when I get there – apart from the beard.”

The distance of age

Marcel always looked up to his older brother, and still does. “My brother was my idol, I worshiped him, he was the guy I wanted to be like, and lead me to become a graphic designer like him.” However their large age gap made his childhood difficult. “Growing up, the 15 years separating my brother and I was huge.” With his brother away at polytech, Marcel was on his own. “It felt like I was an only child. I still remember waiting outside the house for eight hours when I knew he was coming home. He was everything.”

Being the only child at home was hard for him in many ways. “Not having the opportunity to socialise a lot with people my age made me quite shy and reserved as a child. This affected me through to my late teens, when I finally started to come out of my comfort zone and make friends.” The age gap between her sons wasn’t easy for Astrid either. “[Andrew had] already had left when [Marcel] came along, so it was almost like bringing up a child on its own again.”

Turbulent teens

Adolescence was also a challenge, for both Marcel and his mother. “In my teenage years I was quite a handful and caused a lot of grief for parents. I got lippy and rebelled a lot, which caused a lot of issues. I had confidence issues and anxieties that were behind my acting out. Mum and dad saw these and helped; they put me in acting classes to build my confidence, and got me into sport to burn energy and make friends. These were the foundations that helped lead me on the right path as an adult.”

The creative streak Marcel inherited from Astrid helped them find common ground. “In my later teenage years, we became a lot closer as our interests and passions for design and nice things aligned. Moo (his nickname for his mother) has the most insane talent for interior design… I share that passion and taste, which has allowed us to bond over the years.” Marcel admits that it wasn’t until he became an adult that he really appreciated his parents. “I took family for granted. You actually realise later on how important family are. Like when you have your ups and downs, when you're on your own… Your parents are the ones that are always there.”

Agreeing to disagree

However, Marcel admits there’s one thing that they still disagree on. “While we share similar design taste it all ends there when it comes to fashion. [Mum’s] ideal look for me would be clean shaven, well-groomed… But I hate the thought of looking like the norm, and since I cannot have a cool hair style due to being hair handicapped I have taken on a beard.” In fact, his mother brings it up every time they talk. “It's the only thing which really does annoy me.” Other than that, Marcel thinks their relationship is the most solid it’s ever been. “Our relationship has changed and grown stronger as I have gotten older. Obviously, I have matured and become a tiny bit less immature, but also able to understand that as a parent it’s not as easy you think to bring up kids and tackle the challenges that come with it.” His integrity and self awareness are things Astrid’s particularly proud of. “Marcel understands now the values we taught him when he was growing up.”

Tabbie and Suki, sisters

Suki sees being a twin as a key part of her identity. “I am a twin much in the same way as I am a girl or I am a New Zealander or I am Maori or an artist or a reader. It's a fundamental part of what makes me who I am.” Tabbie acknowledges that growing up as a twin is a strange experience. “It’s pretty weird to have a twin, like, someone else has your face! Being called another name so often that you automatically respond to it just in case someone might be addressing you by mistake... The awkward moment when somebody like a teacher or family friend confuses you with your twin, and you play along because you feel bad telling them they’ve mixed you up but you have no idea what they are talking about.” She also admits that they made the most if it. “We of course took advantage of our identical-ness. Swapping classes, places; sharing jobs, adventures, pranks and bunk beds. I don’t actually have many memories that don’t have her in it.” Having each other has helped them get through tough times, even in their youth. “As a teenagers our family had some massive upheavals and, being the eldest, we wore quite a lot of it. We grew up pretty fast at the time but I can't even begin to imagine how it would have been to try and get through that alone.”

They’re still so in sync, that Suki admits their friends find it equally awkward and amusing. “In conversations with other people we talk in unison or finish each other’s sentences. Our friends think it's a bit creepy and also a bit like watching a very fast tennis match. They get whiplash.” Sometimes even Tabbie’s partner can’t keep up. “We talk in unison so constantly that my boyfriend complains it’s like having a conversation in stereo.” This unison even applies to their bodies. “If I complained of a headache as a kid, mum would rush to Suki with a bucket because she would, inevitably, throw up. It's inexplicable, this connection. It can’t be explained by science, it just exists.”At the end of the day, they wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s easy. The best thing is this: knowing that someone completely understands you always. Not just taking your side, not just sympathising, but completely and utterly empathising and comprehending without an explanation.”

The struggle of separation

Their bond is so strong, that for Suki (and Tabbie too) distance is a struggle. “I am not wholly myself unless we are together.” They had a close upbringing, and shared a room throughout their youth, however their teenage years brought the first challenge to their closeness. “They tried to separate us when we went to high school. We did one year of being in separate classes and we were so unhappy. So mum went to the principal and said this isn't happening again.” The realities of adulthood necessitated, at the very least, a separation. “When we left home for the first time and we had our own bedrooms and things, it was really disconcerting. It was weird to sleep in different rooms, and the first time that we spent a night apart was quite traumatic; we'd been together every night of our lives since we were conceived.”

Suki’s proud that they’ve managed to overcome the separation of distance.  “Though we haven't lived in the same city for seven years, we are in almost constant communication… If I'm feeling down or frustrated or angry I call her and she tells me I'm in the right or makes me laugh.” For Tabbie, distance is purely a concept. “It doesn’t matter where Suki and I are in the world, because we always feel connected.” Suki agrees that their bond is unbreakable. “She is always there for me. That's the essence of us. A permanent, unequivocally loving and supportive person who makes you laugh uncontrollably and also bakes a mean pie so I can eat my

A shared burden

“We were dynamic, high achieving and driven, and a lot of what made us us was taken from us.” Their identity as twins, although giving them a truly special bond, also gave them a tragic illness, Tabbie explains. “The freak splitting of cells in the womb that made us two, also meant we share a genetic burden; a rare kidney disorder that has seen us spend the last five years in hospitals, surgeries, on drips, and in stasis, as we wait for new kidneys to replace the faulty ones. We have spent the last three Christmases in hospital.” Neither twin can metabolise electrolytes like potassium, phosphate, phosphate, calcium and sodium – all vital for healthy bodily function. “From the day we were diagnosed, through our steady descent towards organ failure, our lives have been immutably and irreparably changed. We’ve had to say goodbye to dream jobs, to careers, to having children, to having lives of spontaneity, and adventure.” Feeling stagnant is a constant frustration. “You just kind of sometimes feel like the world is moving so fast around you.”

Their illness has had a huge impact on their family. Their father felt helpless. “When we first started getting sick, his sort of reaction to things was to be angry… So for him, it was ‘What can we do? what can we fix?’ ” Due to the genetic nature of their condition, their mother feels a burden of guilt. She wants to donate a kidney, and she now walks 5kms day to bring her blood pressure down in order to do so – ignoring the pain caused by hip and knee replacements.

Tabbie credits their family and her bond with her twin for getting them through. “It’s been a really arduous journey, and without each other, who can say where we would be... Often when I have felt like I was being swallowed up, Suki has prised the jaws open and kept my head above the chaos and despair. Lending me spirit. Lending me strength. It’s simply the assurance that comes with having her by my side.

It’s the comfort of knowing I’ll always have someone who gets me, someone who I don’t need to explain myself to, someone who, already and will always, understand me.” Suki emphasises the shared nature of their experience. “One of the most comforting things about going through this is that I can always talk to Tab. She knows, intimately, the stresses, demands, frustrations, agonies and guilt that come from an overwhelming illness like ours. And I know that no matter what I say, she understands.&rdquo

Shelley and Waylon, couple

Connecting through music

“I never get tired of seeing Waylon, he’s a hard worker and a fantastic father, he finds a balance that works well, always putting our family’s needs first.” Shelley and Waylon share a marriage, a family and a business, however if it wasn’t for music (and fate) they might have never met. For Shelley, music has always been closely tied to family. Yearning to be close to her late father’s memory, as a teenager she picked up his old acoustic guitar and taught herself to play. One day it needed a restring, and she took it to a music shop where Waylon was working. The rest is history.

“We hit it off immediately… I ended up lay-buying a drum kit, so got to see him every week.” This was just fine with Waylon of course. “I would always look forward to her coming in. She has a kind of positive spark that rubs off on people around her.” Shelley credits their shared love of music for shaping their lives. “Music has brought us together and helped focused our life journey together as partners and as a family… We look forward to watching [our kids] grow and turn into amazing young people. Maybe they’ll be musicians, maybe something completely different.”  

Pursing a passion

“He always wanted to be an inventor when he was small; he also wanted music to be part of his job, ever since he picked up guitar at nine years of age.” Like all journeys, it wasn’t simple. Waylon tried his hand at lots of different things, never thinking he would one day even own his own home. He eventually ended up at that fateful music shop, although after a while he grew frustrated. “I was spending a lot of time away from our home either at the music shop, or gigging or doing small tours.” Their solution? To start their own music business, making quality effects pedals and fixing equipment and instruments. Together, they’ve followed Waylon’s dream and made it a reality. But it wasn’t easy. “Deciding to start a company together was real team work. Waylon worked super hard… We had to think outside the box to begin with.”

Of course, dreams don’t come free, they take money. “Money to pay the mortgage and to buy equipment, and the start up costs of building a very small workshop.” Shelley is proud of how hard they worked to realise and fund their dream. “It was quite stressful and we talked about concerns and both worked on simply not spending… While it made life a bit tough, it actually did not hurt us to live a more humble existence. No dinners out, or shopping sprees or movies, in fact we lived off lots of soups and homemade bread, and lots of basic but nutritional meals. I got great at making something out of nothing and am still very good at not wasting food. I found that by being diligent with our money, we really could survive on one wage, albeit rather frugally. Everything went back to basics.”

As their company went from strength to strength, Waylon eventually had to sacrifice one aspect of music that he loved. “Giving up teaching guitar, it had to happen. The workshop has got busier and I wanted to gig and build and repair and not be teaching into the evenings.” Business is just one part of the puzzle however, and starting a family took things to another level for Shelley. “We wanted to be set up before even deciding to have children… Adding Cohen [our first child] into the mix and us deciding for me not to go back to work and instead for us to focus on family and the business together was a challenge.”

Juggling family and business

Building a business that complimented a family life was always a priority; Shelley believes their parenting is empowered by their work model. “Self-employment gives us a reasonable amount of flexibility with the kids, so we can enjoy being here when they are here.” For Waylon, the balance between family and work has always been paramount. “We have worked really hard over the years to put things in place to try and separate the business time from our family the best we can… You can always earn more money, but time is something not all people factor into life. Time is a precious commodity and the challenge in life for us has always been trying to find a balance of work and play, income and freedom, having enough to support our family.”

This balance also gives their business something special, setting them apart. “Because we are a small family owned business, we truly care about our customers. We often get to know some of them on a personal level. We want the best for them, we want them to get the best out of their gear and to trust that if they have our pedals or we’ve worked on their equipment then we back our workmanship 100%. We pride ourselves on our quality workmanship; we genuinely want to keep our customers for life.”

For Shelley, her business and family with Waylon are symbiotic. “We want ours to be a long-term success story that maybe our kids may continue if any of them decide they too love electronic, inventing and building, but there no pressure. More importantly we want them to follow their own dreams and create their own life journeys and memories.”

Arna and Alex, couple

A musical journey

Alex and Arna have been together for ten years and married for five – but if it wasn’t for their love for music, their paths might have never crossed. Neither came from musical families, so it’s a fluke of fate (and a testament to their drive) that they both pursued the same passion. In fact, it took a while before they even interacted. “We'd been playing in the Christchurch youth orchestra together for a couple of months, but I never really noticed [him] all the way over in the Horn section.” It wasn’t long before that all changed; they became inseparable. For Alex, music takes their relationship to another level. “Music is a creative endeavour, and as a shared passion it’s something that draws us closer together to the point where I couldn't imagine doing it with anyone else.”

Although they met in an orchestra, and still play together in that setting, he believes it’s important to play in a smaller setting. “It’s pretty amazing that we share such a great passion; the thing that we both most enjoy in life, we are able to do together… [Although] the orchestra isn’t very intimate, we do chamber music together and it’s just the two of us and the piano.” Arna agrees that it gives them a level of understanding with each other that many relationships lack. “Musicians are a special breed of people and I couldn’t imagine being in a romantic relationship with a non-musician! Because we are both so dedicated to our craft, we have compassion for one another in times of musical hardship, and an understanding when we must forgo dinner plans in lieu of practice for an upcoming concert. Music brought us together, and I feel like it holds us together as well. Our shared love of music radiates from our love for one another.”

Getting serious early

They married young, something that’s less common these days; Arna was only twenty-one when they wed. Although they’re both glad they married when they did, now with hindsight Arna would have done things differently. “[We were] such different people then… I think we'd have a much smaller wedding if we did it now.”

Teenage relationships don’t usually stand the test of time (as we all know) but theirs has beaten the odds. “Alex and I have been together for over ten years and married for five; the dynamics of our relationship have evolved as we’ve grown up. When you meet your soulmate at 15, you’re still a kid, so it was just pure puppy love that held us together at the beginning. But as we went off to Uni and had to start ‘adulting’ through life, you begin to change as individuals. For some couples, this change is what breaks them, but for Alex and I, the challenges and struggles we faced as we learned to navigate our evolving adult relationship were what strengthened our bond… As we’ve grown up, Alex and I have learned to depend more and more on each other emotionally, which consequentially has enabled us to develop into stronger individuals too.”

Taking the next step

Both wanted to study music at a higher level, but felt that New Zealand couldn’t offer what they needed. “There's not a great deal of musical opportunities in New Zealand for what we do.” Alex explains, so they decided to move to Melbourne. The move was hard, one of the hardest things they’ve been through; they knew barely anyone and struggled to get settled. Even getting to work for Alex was a mission. “We moved in to a motel for the first week. I got a job that was thirty kilometres away; there was no public transport and we couldn't afford a car, so I bought a bike and cycled sixty kilometres a day... On the first day I threw up on the way to work. I was going through hell. My manager didn't realize what I was doing – I used to sleep under my desk, on my lunch break because I was so exhausted.”

Arna credits Alex’s support for helping her cope. “Initially it was hard; we didn't have any friends there so we had to rely with each other. I think if I was there by myself it would been a lot much harder.” They eventually found their footing; moving into the centre of the city helped incredibly – they’re now immersed in music on the South Bank. Alex thinks the challenge was good for them and their relationship. “Three years on and we're definitely stronger together as a result.”

Differences and compromise

Although they share passion and talent for music, Arna says that’s where a lot of similarities end. “We're actually quite different people but I think that's what makes us work in a way; a lot of that areas of life complement each other.” Their personalities differ considerably; Alex describes himself as cool, calm and collected. “Nothing really stresses me too much. I just take everything as it comes.” He explains how Arna is the complete opposite. “She's prepared for everything and stresses over every tiny little detail.” It’s these differences however that bring their relationship balance and strength. “I see his strengths that I don't have. His ability to just say yes to things and [his] lack of fear in life are inspiring because I'm kind of a fearful person – change and spiders… Some of our core personal attributes may differ, but learning to love what is different in your partner helps to create this beautiful, empathic synergy. Like they say, opposites attract.”

Arna admits marrying young has had its challenges. “Usually people get married when their careers are a little bit more settled.” Instead, their flourishing music careers have thrown plenty of hurdles into the mix. “When the opportunity comes up overseas or something, we have to be really flexible – give and take. At the moment we're settled in Melbourne, at least while I finish my PhD, and then it might be time then for [Alex] to pursue something up and I'll just have to follow. You have to be really flexible with the opportunities.” They also compromise their time, with Alex helping Arna with her YouTube beauty channel. “I'm an Instagram husband… Many awkward moment taking like photos in the middle of the street.” At the end of the day though, he’ll do anything for her. “The YouTube thing I'm pretty proud of, just because it's such a self-driven project that’s going strength for strength.”

Finding balance

Both now pursue music full time, with Arna working towards a PhD. “This involves hours of practice a day, group rehearsals, attending lectures/performance classes, and squeezing in time to read and research for my dissertation.” It’s her dedication and work ethic that Alex is proud of. “The thing I admire most about Arna is her strong work ethic and motivation. This is most evident in her willingness to tackle (and stick with) huge challenges like doing a PhD and running her own YouTube channel.”

Meanwhile Alex is studying at the Australian National Academy of Music, and thrives on being busy as much as Arna does. “While it's nice to have down time, I really love being busy. Especially as performers it really is quite exciting going from thing to thing to thing. We stay afloat by being extremely organised.” Having time for each other amongst everything they do is a daily challenge. “Finding the space to spend quality time with Alex can be a struggle, as we often only have time to exist around one another.” At the end of the day, she knows their priority. “Our relationship has to come first; some opportunities you have to say no to, or compromise so you can do it together… Our most special moments are our most private moments.”

The power of teamwork

“Alex is definitely a ‘glass half full’ kind of guy, and his fun and warm nature can be such a beacon of hope for me when I’m struggling.” At the heart of their marriage, and their success, is teamwork. “My weaknesses are her strengths and vice versa. I'm the ideas man while Arna keeps me grounded in reality.” Playing music together and sharing this passion is a special part of their relationship for Alex. “We often perform chamber music together. This sort of small ensemble work requires a great deal of cooperation and compromise to ensure everyone is satisfied artistically. As a couple performing together we know each other intimately and this really shines through in concert.&rdquo

Their teamwork even transcends their marriage and music careers; it’s what Arna loves about working together in our Melbourne store. “We make a pretty great team any time we are working the same shift at Merchant 1948. Some people might find the thought of working with their partner a horror, but we love it! Because our lives are so busy, it’s actually nice to occasionally work the same Sunday shift together, and we enjoy helping each other out on the sales floor! Often it can be a team effort between the two of us that helps a customer find some great new shoes they love!”

Tory and Perri, best friends

The power of dance

They’re inseparable now, more like siblings than friends, but this wasn’t always the case. Thrown together at dance school, Tory and Perri weren’t immediate friends. Partly driven by fate and partly through the nature of dance, for Perri their friendship became inevitable. “We were firstly forced to be close at dance school; not only is it a very intimate art form, but because it deals with the body you have to be open minded and allow other people to see your whole self. This can be quite intrusive, however it is also a way to find trust and communicate.” Spending every day with Perri made Tory realise their friendship was something special. “Over time we realized we shared the same passions and interests which eliminated any differences. We became open to each other, to each other's culture and each other's values and beliefs.”

Learning from each other

Although they’re admittedly different people with different upbringings, it’s these differences that have seen them grow. “Our friendship is special because we have taught each other a lot about culture and performance in a safe supportive way. Tory is Maori and I am Pakeha. He shifted around a lot and was very immersed in the Maori culture; my upbringing was not hugely multi-cultural – not because we didn’t want that, just because of the environment and our ethnicity. [Through Tory] I have learnt about some of the customs and beliefs in Maori culture, and gained some understanding in the Te Reo language. The stories he shares with me about his whakapapa are fascinating.”

Tori’s particularly proud of Perri’s growth, both in dance and as a person. “She's definitely not a case of 'What you see is what you get'. The world is marred with many stereotypes; she wronged a lot of stereotypes by proving that the colour of your skin, where you lived or studied didn't determined your future… To see her doing what she loves, inspiring others and allowing them to live there dream, I will always be proud of her.” Most important to Perri is the values they share. “Our common ground is love for our family and the dedication to our work no matter what kind. We also share a love of music and creating… I also have learnt what it means to be a survivor and how belief in one’s self is vital. Most of all he has taught me to acknowledge and respect where you started from, but not let it hold you back from the journey ahead.”

Embracing compromise

Differences of course mean disagreements. “We frequently disagree, but have learnt to appreciate our differences because we know the other person has a lot of value and substance; I admire Tory’s honesty. He is certainly not afraid to tell you what he is thinking - which is great because you always know where you stand.” Their loyalty is uncompromising, and for Tory it’s carried them through hard times. “We've been through a lot together! Life throws a lot of obstacles at you and when you have someone there to help you through it, it makes life easier to cope with. That outlet for someone to listen, we did that for each other.” Perri explains that sometimes it’s the little things that help the most. “We supported each other through [hard] times, even if it was just teaching each other’s classes… You have to pick the other one up and think ‘Okay, I will have the energy for the both of us this time.’ ”

Becoming family

One particular point in time was incredibly formative for their friendship. “Tory moved in with my mum and I... My mum would love to claim him as her own.” Tory sees this time as a catalyst for their relationship. “While we lived together it was important to break down barriers and make ourselves vulnerable to each other.  This was not an overnight thing – it was hours, days, months and years of building trust. I [now] see her more as a sibling than a friend… We lived, studied and worked together, this meant emotions and feelings were never hidden, nothing was ever a secret.  It was like seeing yourself in the mirror, it made things a lot easier to see and deal with.”

For Perri, their relationship is representative of the true meaning of family. “I think it is important to find a connection with people outside of immediate whanau because ultimately we all want the same thing, love, support and acceptance which can develop between many different people, not just blood relations.”

Tory couldn’t agree more. “When you have a connection like that, which isn't common it's stays with you. This is what we have.”