How dope is 12-year-old hip-hop dancer Kea Peahu? Well, she’s toured with JLo and rocked the house with The Lab. Now, the part-time Hawai‘i resident has shu ed her way into a starring role for an upcoming Netfix film.
If you haven’t heard of Kea Peahu by now, or if you don’t at least recognize her cute-as-a-button face, you either:
A) Don’t watch TV
B) Don’t view videos onYouTube
C) Live under a rock
D) Have no pulse
Whatever your excuse is, you’re about to discover how this most def hip-hop dancer has T-stepped her way into the entertainment industry and morphed into one of its fast-rising young stars.
It was back in the fall of 2015 when Kea, then just 8, first caused a stir among the masses after a couple of videos of her dancing with well-known choreographers went viral. One of those YouTube videos even wound up generating 1.5 million views.
A few months later, she was invited on to The Ellen Degeneres Show, where she rattled off her Hawaiian names, “Kealolaniokahoka Kapuakukahi,” for the smitten TV host, performed a short dance with one of her instructors — DJ and producer Matt Steffanina — and charmed her way into millions of hearts with that infectious giggle of hers and sincere desire to one day dance for dogs for a living. (Awww together now: Awww!)
The next two years, this whirlwind of wiggle garnered even more attention after blowing onto a worldwide stage with members of the California-based dance group The Lab. Competing in the made-for-TV event World of Dance, Kea and crew were eliminated from the contest in 2017, but returned the following year with an expanded corps and mind-boggling routines, and wound up shuffling off stage with the show’s $1 million grand prize.
Then, this past June, she was one of a handful of dancers handpicked to perform with Jennifer Lopez on her “It’s My Party” tour, a summer-long celebration of JLo’s 50th birthday. As a result, Kea was able to visit 31 U.S. cities and six international countries, including Israel and Russia.
Now comes word that her career is about to go vortex after landing the co-lead role in the film Finding ‘Ohana.
Currently being shot on O‘ahu, Finding ‘Ohana tells the story of two siblings from Brooklyn discovering both their Hawaiian heritage and their sense of adventure during a summer vacation in the islands.
The film, which marks Kea’s acting debut, is expected to be released next year on Netflix.
“When I found out I got the job, I was so amazed, so excited,” gushes Kea. “I was really glad that I got the lead role for my first movie, (and that it’s being filmed) where I’m from.”
Nothing better illustrates her youthful exuberance than her description of the phone conversation — chock-full of elongated vowel sounds — that she and film director Jude Weng had shortly after final casting decisions were made.
“Jude called and she was like, ‘Hello, young lady,'” recalls Kea, still giddy over the memory. “And I was like, ‘Hiiii.’ She’s like, ‘Do you know why I’m calling?’ And I was like, ‘Noooo.’ She’s like, ‘Do you know who this is?’ And I was like, ‘Juuude.’ And she was like, ‘Yeah.’
“And then she asked me if I wanted to be in her movie, and I said, ‘Yes, yes, yes! I love it! I love it!'”
Surprisingly, the youngster has already made a smooth transition to the day-to-day grind of makeup sessions, wardrobe changes, and countless cuts and takes.
She credits her laser-like focus in helping her meet the demands of an often exhausting profession.
“We work six days a week and no more than nine-and-a-half hours each day, so it’s long days and it’s hard work,” explains Kea, who, along with other cast and production members, has taken up temporary residence at an undisclosed site in Waikīkī.
“But at the end of the day, we have to get the job done.”
Admittedly, the best part about her current circumstances is being able to finally work close to home. Two weekends ago, she turned the big 1-2 and marked the milestone in the company of loved ones. For Kea, the special occasion was long overdue.
“It’s like the first time since I was like, 7 years old that I had a birthday here,” she notes. “It’s just cool to finally be able to celebrate in Hawai‘i with friends and family.”
When Kea was 7, her mom, Sanoi Peahu, took her to an audition in Waikīkī, where she earned glowing reviews and qualified for an actor’s convention staged at Universal Studios in California. At the convention, Kea trained with many industry pros, and of the 22 agents she performed for, 18 issued callbacks.
But it was one agent who pulled Sanoi aside and challenged her to make a life-changing decision: “The agent told me, ‘If you don’t move here now, you’re going to shoot yourself in the foot because you have a very special little girl.'”
Three weeks later, the family packed their bags and relocated to the Golden State. Since then, Kea has split her time between living in Azusa, California, and chilling in Kapolei and Mililani on O‘ahu.
“In the beginning when we moved, she would come back and forth with me,” explains Sanoi, who runs a local flooring company. “But when my fiancée moved up to LA, it let me come to Hawai‘i for work, and it allowed her to stay up there and watch Kea.”
After signing on with Susan Osser Talent Management, which counts child stars Raini and Rico Rodriguez among its clients, Kea began receiving a number of acting jobs, including a performance with cast members of the Disney Channel series Girl Meets World.
But it wouldn’t be long before she found her way back to her passion, dance, and more specifically, hip-hop. By joining The Lab Creative Arts Studio located in West Covina, Kea discovered the perfect environment where she could be nurtured in a homeschool program while developing her dance skills under the watchful eye of many of the world’s top choreographers, including Waipahu’s Sienna Lalau.
“With The Lab, we’re all one big family,” explains Kea, a former student of Corvid Academy in Kapolei whose foray into dance began at age 4 with ballet. “I feel like it is about performance, but it’s also about dancing together. We’re clean and in sync, and we train every day for a bunch of hours.”
And no matter how long the training sessions are or how complicated the routines may be, Kea will always find a way to stand out and shine.
“Dancing comes naturally to me,” she says of her innate sense of rhythm and ability to capture people’s attention with divers facial expressions. “I can take whatever movement I receive and make it my own … Dancing not only allows me to express with my body, but it allows me to express with my face and show how I feel throughout the piece.”
In performing alongside JLo last summer, Kea was able to experience what it’s like to travel and work with one of the universe’s most luminous stars.
“She is so sweet, so dedicated and a true hard-worker,” Kea says of the pop icon, who at the conclusion of her tour gifted everyone — including Kea — with Apple watches.
“She inspires me a lot … Being on tour with her, looking and watching and hearing all the things that she’s doing, it made me open my eyes even more to what I can be and what I can do.”
With each passing day, both the present and future appear bright for young Kea. And yet, even she admits, “I haven’t really figured out what I want to be when I grow up.”
Wait a twerking minute! What about hip-hop? What about movies? What about dancing for dogs?!
Kea giggles and carefully considers her seemingly endless options.
“OK, this is going to sound weird,” says the girl who loves scarfing down hamburger steak and acai bowls, and playing basketball and Fortnite in her spare time, “but I’m open to being the biggest movie star ever, to being the best dancer ever … all the way to being …”
Drumroll, please. “… a cashier!” “Yes, she wants to scan groceries and bag them,” sighs Sanoi.
Kea giggles again. “Honestly, I’m open to anything. I just want to find what suits me the best, then stick to that and do the best that I can.”