Raising the Curtains on… Hula Dance!

Hawaii is many things – one of the states of the U.S., Islands paradise formed by volcano ashes, popular tourist destination and many more. It also has a unique treasure, which is its conserved culture, one of them being the hula dance.

Introduction to Hula

Hula dance is a dance performed by Hawaiian, usually accompanied by chant or song.  It is unique to Hawaii, one of its kind. The dancers are typically seen in a skirt made of grass. The movements of the body and hands convey the story or meaning behind the chant or song.

Different Styles of Hula

Today there are many sub-styles of hula dance, the two most commonly seen being hula ‘auana and hula kahiko.

Hula Kahiko

Hula kahiko is the more traditional form of hula.  It is often accompanied by chants (mele) and the traditional drums (pahu). The movements are more brisk and fast-paced and are used to tell a story. Since there was no written language in Hawaii, Hawaiian used hula dance to pass down stories and history including events, mythology and creation accurately. Therefore, hula kahiko has to be followed strictly in the same way their ancestor did, so they can inherit their tradition and culture correctly. Old hula kahiko costumes feature skirt made of bark cloth and accessories made of plants or material such as shells and feathers.

Hula ‘Auana

Hula ‘auana is the contemporary style of Hula. ‘Auana here means drift in Hawaiian, meaning drifting away from the original hula. It is based on Western models, and it features introduced instruments like ukulele and steel guitar rather than the pahu drum. The music is more melodic, and the moves are more sensual compared to hula kahiko. Movements are also used to tell a story.

However, hula ‘auana is mainly performed for entertainment purpose. Therefore, it allows more creativity stretching, for the choreographer as well as the dancer. The costume of hula ‘auana is more westernized. Dancers can be seen in the fabric top or dress, grass skirt.

History of Hula

There are several stories regarding the origin of Hula. But perhaps the most often heard is that of Pele, the Goddess of fire and volcanoes, and Hi’iaka, the Goddess of Hawaii and hula dancers. In this rendering, the first hula was born when Pele was bored and begged her sisters to dance and sing for her. Only Hi`iaka stepped forward to perform. There are other legend stories regarding the origin of hula, but all of them revolve around Goddesses.

In the early 1800s, Christian missionaries arrived in Hawaii and converted many of the people to Christian. Soon later, Queen Ka’ahumanu, who was a Christian convert, banned public hula performances. The missionaries saw the dance as vulgar, disgusting and sinful due to its body movements and ‘inappropriate’ costumes.

In the late 1800s, the last king of Hawaii, King David Kalakaua, wanted more Hawaiian to continue practicing their heritage. Therefore, he lifted the hula ban, and hula once again went officially public.

Where to Experience Hula?

There are several occasions in Hawaii where you can experience Hula, including festivals, events, hotel and resorts. Note that these performances are to entertain people like guests and tourists. Therefore, it is not 100% authentic. For a more authentic experience, head to Hilo in spring to witness the annual Merrie Monarch Festival. Merrie Monarch Festival most prestigious hula competition in the world, dedicated to the memory of David Kalakaua. Every year, the competition picks the best hula dancer in the world.

Hula dance plays a significant role to the Hawaiians because it acts as a bridge, connecting the ancient and modern Hawaii. Hula helps conserve the history of Hawaiian, which is important to the Hawaiian.

Here are some performances from the past Merrie Monarch festival:

Hula auana: https://youtu.be/nupXxN1L0qo

Hula kahiko: https://youtu.be/bgUI_fqS6lk

My quest for knowledge is a never-ending exciting journey.

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