Hālau Hula in Hawai‘i – By Shantal Pantohan, Program Manager
Many visitors come to Hawai‘i and when they think of dancing, the main image that comes to mind is our native dance, the hula. Graceful hula maidens clad in ti leaf (grass) skirts and flower lei sway to the melodic strains of ukulele and guitar. Hula implements like the ipu (gourd), ‘uli‘uli (feather-topped gourd rattle), and the pu‘ili (split bamboo sticks) allow the dancers to create a fast paced performance of unbridled enjoyment and excitement. Hula is storytelling, with the arms, hips, feet, and eyes doing the telling.
What they don’t see and most times know about is the behind the scenes and local culture of being a hula dancer in Hawai‘i and what it entails. Like other dance cultures around the world (ballet, jazz, etc.), dancers can join a dance group, or as they call them in Hawai‘i, an hālau hula. A hālau hula is a school in which the ancient Hawaiian dance form called hula is taught.
Hula is not just dancing and chanting, it is a deeper spiritual aspect which must be learned and felt by each haumana (student). Hula started as a religious ceremony to the Hawaiian gods. Now we dance to remember the history of Hawai‘i and to join the Hawaiian way of celebrating life. Haumana have set hours to study at the hālau and in some cases, dedicate many weeks and months in preparation for a performance or even a competition. This dedication and passion each hula dancer has comes to life when they get to share their dancing with family, friends and visitors.