The theatre raised the $60,000 they needed to buy a digital projector so it can remain open. (See my essay, Saving the heart of our town, September 18, 2014.) We celebrated this fabulous news with a hula hoike (show). Four of the halau or hula schools in Honoka‘a came together and showcased their students as part of the celebration. That included my class.
I haven’t mentioned this before, but I’m taking a Hawaiian culture class. I’ve been saying that I need to honor the traditions of my new home and learn about my environment for some time. So I finally put my time where my mouth is. The twice-weekly class is a combination of chanting, hula and learning about old Hawaii, the one we westerners interrupted 200 years ago.
Now before you get the wrong image in your mind, this is not the cellophane-skirt-and-coconut-bra swaying, gliding style of hula. That’s modern hula, called ‘auana (to wander). We are studying the ancient style called kahiko which often conveys spiritual messages. This style is characterized by sharp precision arm and foot movements done in a grouping that respects where the dancer is in relation to the other dancers. (Stay in your line.)
In the four weeks we’ve been meeting, we have learned the Hawaiian alphabet, some basic hula steps, two hulas that my teacher choreographed, three chants, and beginner’s lei braiding from ti leaves. Our teacher moves quickly – class time is for learning new material, not practicing what we’ve already covered.
I find the hula such a mind twister. First, I’m left-handed and I never learned left from right. It’s my form of dyslexia. Second, he’s teaching in a foreign language – foreign for me anyway. Hema is left and ‘akau is right, or is that the other way around? Koholo, ‘ami, wawaeka, emi, hope, huli (at least I knew that last one; huli is to turn, as in huli chicken or chicken on a spit). Some of these words are directions and others are movements. ‘Ami is a hip rotation; ‘ami hema is a counterclockwise hip circle because you throw your hip to the left first. ‘Ami akau is clockwise. I have to listen very carefully, which is my third impediment to learning the hula; I am hard of hearing and a visual learner, meaning looking at new words on paper. This class is mostly aural. Fourth, just getting the footwork correct is only the beginning. Now add arm movements on top of that! For the first three weeks I felt helpless. Then suddenly, muscle-memory began to kick in. Look at me! I’m doing a hula! One thing I know is that learning hula is a perfect antidote for developing dementia.
Back to the theatre celebration: our teacher also has a regular hula class and they were to perform several dances at the kick-starter finale. On Thursday, he also asked us, his culture class, to join them in the two hulas we learned. One is an entrance hula, and the other honors Pele.
We looked at each other nervously. Many of us never studied hula before this class. We only finished learning the new steps for the entrance hula last week! Talk about getting out of my comfort zone! But we all like our teacher, and we wanted to honor him. Most of us showed up.
The whole thing took maybe four minutes: big entrance hula splash then directly into the Pele dance, with the help of an adrenaline rush and the magic of muscle memory. It doesn’t hurt to also be embedded in a matrix of dancers all doing the same moves. I can now say that I’ve performed hula in public. Imagine that.
For other essays about Diane’s Hawaiian Hula Class see:
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