Growing up in Hawaii, all of us girls took hula lessons. But none of us considered ourselves “real” hula dancers. The serious dancers joined hula halau (schools), led by revered kumu hulu (hula teachers). And the top dancers view hula not as hobby but as lifestyle.
The article honors the late George Na‘ope, a revered kumu hula who died last October at age 81. Etua Lopes, one of his students and a kumu hula himself, recalls him vividly:
He used to say that the hula is actually a spirit. You noho and ground yourself and everything flows in you. To noho means to sit or dwell, to come to your na‘au (core) and connect. He taught us this. He would never stand in front and dance throughout the whole class. Instead he would show you the motion, and then you would find it and dance. He would explain, ‘I don’t want you to look like me; I want you to look like you!’
Hmm, I could’ve been reading about yoga.
Then he described Na‘ope’s classes: “[H]e would take me apart joint by joint. But then he would put me back together.” None of the students complained when they practiced for hours at a time. Doesn’t this, too, sound like the tough love of the best yoga teachers?
Like yoga, hula has become commercialized and trivialized. Yoga nowadays means exercise, while hula is touristy entertainment. Both are associated with youth and sexiness, when they are really philosophies.
Lopes’s last quote again could’ve been made by a yoga practitioner:
Uncle taught me that the hula makes you want to learn about you. And he taught me the morals you live by as a hula dancer: to lökahi, to unite; to ha‘a, to humble yourself in dance; to ahunui, to be patient with yourself and with others. So many words, I can go on and on.
Image: Hawaii magazine