I have always loved the hula, but it wasn’t until I was in my forties before I stumbled into a class and developed a passion for the dance. I was at the laundromat when I saw a sign in the window for hula classes manuahi or free. I thought, wow I could use some exercise so I signed up for the class. Somehow it seemed so natural for me. Even the kumu hula was surprised that I had never had hula before. I just took to it. Before long I was taking a couple of times a week. After a few months I was asked to join the ‘olapa class. This is a class the trains you to actually become a dancer. The ‘Olapa is a tree with silvery leaves that move with even the tiniest of breezes so we were to learn to move properly. It was hard. There are hundreds of hula steps and we barely scratched the surface, but keeping them all straight was a challenge. After several months the class was done and in order to be called ‘olapa we had to take a test that lasted almost four hours! We had to demonstrate all our learned steps, we had to know an entrance chant, in Hawaiian of course, we had to know our mele, or dance chant and be able to write it and its translation. Then we had to prepare for our final stage by dancing on the Pa Hula platform on the crater rim of Halema’uma’u. The day arrived, we fasted, we were silent, we dressed with the utmost care in the traditional pa’u which we had fabric painted ourselves and we entered the stage with nervousness, pride, and a feeling of accomplishment. We had an audience of friends, supporters and tourists who happened along and were able to witness a truly Hawaiian event.
We did the ‘oli (chant) all together. Our kumu hula told the story of our mele and we all danced in unison. It was a splendid day. When the hula was over we excitedly received lei from onlookers, we we could talk and cheer and we sang all the way down the mountain to kumu’s house for our graduation party.
By now, I had begun making pa’u (skirts) for many of the new students and now I started making dresses, skirts, blouses, etc. for our performances. I loved being able to give back for all I had received through hula.
Hula is so much more than a dance. It becomes a way of life. Everything you do has a connection to hula. As you learn the ancient protocols, learn about the lives of the past kupuna or elders and gain knowledge of the kings, queens, warriors of the past, you learn respect, gratitude, love, and humbleness. Many of these attributes are carried into your daily life.
Hula has always been the cornerstone of my adult life. It is steadfast, always there to support me through all my trials. I can say my entrance ‘oli at the door and drop my troubles there on the doorstep. I feel safe.
I will continue with my hula story in the near future. Keep tuned in.