Ligaya Stice and Tammy Spain bonded in the mid-1980s as part of the University of Hawaiʻi Rainbow Dancers, entertaining thousands of people at UH football games. More than three decades later, the bond remains, but now as medical professionals working to improve the overall health of the communities they serve.
Stice is a pediatric anesthesiologist with Pacific Anesthesia, Inc., and Spain, who resides in central Florida, is the associate director for project management for The FlexPro Group, a consulting firm in the pharmaceutical and life sciences industry. While their specific fields are different, their paths recently crossed when Spain needed Stice’s advice on a project she was working on.
“I felt lucky. It’s not a normal thing to know somebody that has that kind of background,” Spain said.
Stice added, “For me, I felt as though this is a person that I trust. This is a person that I’ve known for a long time.”
That trust was born from their time with the Rainbow Dancers and as members of other student groups on the UH Mānoa campus. Stice majored in chemistry, and Spain majored in biology, and they looked forward to dance practices and events, and just being with the other students on the team.
“At the end of the day, to be able to run down the stairs to the Quarry [for practice] and just have an outlet, that was really valuable,” said Stice, who was also crowned Miss Hawaiʻi 1989 and is a former New England Patriots cheerleader.
Spain added, “I remember being around a lot of really talented, beautiful, intelligent women. We just had such a good time together. We all got along great.”
Career path started at UH Mānoa
Aside from dancing, the pair recalled spending quality time and supporting each other through their majors, while also preparing for graduate school. Stice and Spain earned scholarships, funding and opportunities through the National Institutes of Health Minority Access for Research Careers—a program that aimed to increase diversity in biomedical research.
After leaving UH, Stice earned an MD and PhD from Boston University and completed her residency training in anesthesiology at Weill Cornell Medical Center, while Spain earned a PhD in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University.
“When I got ready to go to grad school, I wasn’t sure if what I had done was going to be good enough. But it turned out, it was,” Spain said. “What I took out from that was, wherever you go to school, you can make it great. And UH was really great.”
Stice, who sees patients come through the hospital every day for surgeries, is that comforting voice to both the patient and sometimes their parents to ease their anxiety and let them know that everything will be okay. She said her experiences as a Rainbow dancer, Miss Hawaiʻi and background in musical theater, have helped foster her confidence and communication skills.
“It’s something that you have to be very conscientious about, and it’s something that I still try to be very deliberate about,” Stice said. “How you talk to people, how you choose your words, how you explain things so that they feel comfortable. You’re not talking over their head but you’re not dumbing it down. It’s reading the room and being sensitive to the human being on the other side. I think any team sport, whether that sport is theater or Rainbow Dancers, requires that skill.”
She concluded, “I really feel that it’s about utilizing all of your gifts to get to where you want to be, don’t exclude or deny a certain part of yourself. Keep an open mind and be creative.”
‘Models of success’
The Rainbow Dancers are an integral part of the UH Marching Band, regularly performing during marching shows and pep band events. According to Stice, a year before they became part of the team, she recalled a special focus on recruiting local women to become members. That’s when she said the squad grew from about 10 to 30. Stice and Spain also credited then-Rainbow Dancer Advisor Marcelo Pacleb with bringing in local talent to be part of the program.
Current UH Marching Band Assistant Director Gwen Nakamura started teaching at UH around the time Stice and Spain were part of the team.
“Former Rainbow Dancers Ligaya Stice and Tammy Spain, the two of them have paved the way for so many past and current Rainbow Dancers,” Nakamura said. “They have been at the forefront to show that you can be strong models of success in life.”
—By Marc Arakaki