Hula for Healing

03. September 2017 Other 0

If you’ve ever traveled to Hawaii, you have probably eaten pineapple, worn a lai of flowers around you neck, sipped on the juice of a coconut through a straw and attended a luau where you ate salted pig and watched the locals dance the hula in grass skirts.  But what is the hula exactly? What is the significance of this dance to those who practice it?

Recently, I attended a memorial service for a young man gone to soon.  The entire auditorium was filled with standing room only.  I sat behind the family and amongst friends, hands held and  shared tissue. We cried uncontrollably and tried to make sense of how such a tragedy came to be, when suddenly a young woman dressed in a tropical garment walked up to the stage to pay tribute to her high school friend by performing a beautiful hula dance in his honor.

When she started her dance, my chest was tight, I was taking shallow breaths and trying to hold back my tears.  As her performance continued, my body relaxed, my chest softened and I was able to take a deep breath again.  Although the auditorium was filled with grief, this young girls performance  brought a wave of comfort and healing to all those grappling with the reality of our friends demise.

Hula is a traditional dance using smooth body movements that tell a story.  Historically, Hula was a ritual dance performed for the Volcano goddess, Pele.  The goddess Laka, was the keeper of the dance and the performers would offer prayers and gifts, most often a lei.

In 1820, Christian Missionaries arrived on the island and started converting islanders to the Christian religion.  When Queen Ka’ahumanei decided to become a Christian, she had all temples and goddess images destroyed.  The christian pagans felt the hula was vulgar and sinful, so the Hula was banned as well.

Due to the value of the Hula to the islanders, their beliefs, culture and tradition,  the Hula was continued in hiding until the last King of Hawaii, King David Kalakakua, brought the Hula back out into the open, having it performed at festivals and ceremonies.  He did not just bring the Hula back out in to the open, but encouraged expansion on the music and moves.

To date there are two main types of Hula, the Kahiko (ancient) and the Aunana (modern) and dozens of hula dance schools all across the nation teach the traditions of hula and exhibit them in annual hula festivals.  To learn more about the top five hula festivals, click here

In an interview with  Terry and Rose Stout from Durango, I was able to gain an inside perspective from those who

Me: What sparked your interest in studying and practicing to Hula tradition?

Stout: I saw an ad for a “sacred hula” class in a local magazine and knew immediately that I wanted to do it. I had a strong love for Hawaii after visiting there many times. I knew the hula was a beautiful dance and was drawn to the possibility of learning more about the culture and learning some dances, all the while listening to beautiful Hawaiian music. I didn’t know at the time that it would be so enriching…..and on so many levels. 

Me:  When did you get involved? How long have you been dancing the hula?

Stout: Even though I saw the ad in October 2014, it took me a month to get up the courage to attend the first class. I have been dancing ever since (coming up on 3 years).

Me:  What have you gained most from your involvement in the hula tradition?

Stout: That’s a difficult question, as I have gained many things. The dances embody story-telling, spirituality, love of family and nature, reverence for life and Hawaiian culture and traditions. We dance slow and soulful songs and fast, ancient style songs. There is learning on all levels — the feet are doing one thing, the arms are telling the story, the hands are either soft or strong, the eyes are connecting with the audience and face is expressing the story. We learn some of the words to the songs and chants (in Hawaiian), which makes it fun to sing along. So, learning the dances it is a great workout for the brain, body, mind and soul! In addition, our troupe has become a strong ohana (family), so I now have a new and supportive community (including my husband, who is the only male dancer in the troupe). It is fun to get the chance to perform at local events (although hula is not a “performance”, it is a gift that is given away).

Me: What would you say to individuals that have not danced the hula and are interested in learning?

Stout:  There are haluas (hula “schools”) in most cities around the world. Try to find one and go to class. It is important to not get discouraged, as it may seem overwhelming at the beginning. The teacher may not break down the dance steps for the dances that the class already knows, so you will have to pick them up by following along. Just follow the feet at first, if doing feet and arms is too confusing. Slowly, you will pick up the dance. When the teacher teaches a new dance, he/she will break it down and you will be learning with the others. Try to get the lyrics to the songs so that you understand the story being told. This will help you learn the arm movements and what is being shown. There are about 10 simple dance steps to learn that are used in all of the dances (kao, kaholo, ami, etc.). Once you know these, you will understand the footwork that is the foundation of all of the dances.   

Me: Any other thoughts, questions, or feedback?

Stout:  Hula is danced all over the world, even though it originates only from Hawaii.You will find classes in Paris, Tokoyo, the Middle East, Santa Fe, NM, Durango, CO, etc. There is a reason that it is so popular — being involved in a hula troupe offers so much more than just the dance. If you connect with it, it can add much joy to your life.

If you would like to learn more about the history of the Hula, you can learn a lot from the book “Kumu Hula”. There are thousands of dances on YouTube. Start watching, and you will be fascinated.

Below is a video, followed with the written lyrics of the song used in the dance.

Maunaleo Lyrics Translation

Beloved indeed in Maunaleo
Sparkling in the light, wind-blown rain
A finely woven cloak for the highlands
A cherished one, respected for power and strength
Esteemed, treasured, touched by heaven

Capped by the silver of the rolling mists
An adornment for that gentle heart
Embraced by the surrounding ridges
One to hold close, to hold near, to love
One dear to the heart, precious, exalted

This is my garland of affection
For Maunaleo in its beauty
Glorified by the Mälie breeze
A cherished one, respected for power and strength
Esteemed, treasured, touched by heaven

For Mauanleo is the serenity of deep love
Beloved are you, beloved indeed

I hope you feel inspired to find peace, love and healing through the dance of Hula.  Please make sure to leave your thoughts and questions in the comment section below.


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