April SPOTLIGHT – Hula 101: Becoming a Part of a Hālau

For this month’s spotlight piece, our very own ISI ʻohana Kanani takes us on her hula journey she shares with her daughter.

As a young girl growing up in Hawai‘i, becoming a hula dancer was something that I always wanted. Unlike most dancers, I didn’t begin my hula journey until I was a 7th grader at Kamehameha Schools. I’ve danced for 4 other hālau (hula school) before becoming a member of Na Maka ‘O Pu’uwai Aloha under the direction of Kumu Mandi Scott. I’ve been dancing with Na Maka for 6 years now and my daughter, who is 9 years old is also a dancer at Na Maka and has been since she was three-years old.

Most dancers start their hula journey as soon as they can walk. To become a true hula dancer, you must join a hālau. It is here that you learn the fundamentals of dancing – basic steps, where to put your hands, where to look, facial expressions, etc. It is here that you learn about the culture and mo‘ōlelo (stories) of Hawai‘i’s past and present. Some dancers stay with one hālau from their first day of dancing, others may move around once, twice, even three or more times until they find their home. Every hālau is different and every dancer is different. As a dancer grows, their wants and needs of dancing grows as well. It is important to find the hālau that’s a right fit for you and your journey through hula.

When selecting a hālau you want to find one that shares your vision of what it means to be a hula dancer. First question you need to ask yourself is how committed are you? Like anything else in life, you’ll get out of it what you put in. Is this something you’re serious about or is it just a hobby? What type of hālau do you want to be a part of – do you want to compete? Do you want to perform? Do you want to just learn the basics and and get your exercise in for the week? Are you comfortable with the kumu (teacher) as a person? Do you like their style of teaching? Do you enjoy the other haumāna (students) in your class? Can you make practices regularly? Can you afford it – time and money.

The mission of our hālau is to “perpetuate the Hawaiian culture and language by educating haumāna through music and dance.” We do not compete, instead we travel and give back to the community whenever possible. This is important to me in my current journey. I want to share my love of hula and love to perform with my fellow ‘ōlapa (dancers). I think everyone should give back to the community in their own way and time. I love that my daughter is learning this at a young age and can only hope she continues to do so, with or without hula. Every year we put on a hō‘ike (show) at Hawai‘i Theatre. The main purpose is to provide scholarships to the dancers graduating from high school that coming year. This 2-day event is made up of 3 shows so everyone in the hālau has a chance to perform. The format is the same, just different dancers in each show. This is the chance for us ‘ōlapa to show what we’ve been working so hard for throughout the year. It’s also the one time that my daughter and I get to share the stage together in a Mother-Daughter performance.

Being a part of a hālau is essential to becoming a hula dancer. Finding the right hālau takes time and energy. But being a good haumāna is just as important. You must be committed to the work, the culture, your fellow brothers and sisters whom you dance with and especially your kumu. Hula becomes a way of life.