The hula

In its earlier years, only keiki or children competed in the Polynesian Cultural Center's Moanikeala Festival, and they only performed hula auana or the modern style of the traditional Hawaiian dance, compared with the hula kahiko or ancient style of the dance. Today, the Moanikeala Festival is no longer a competition, but an exhibition or ho'ike as the Hawaiians would say. It also includes adult dancers performing in both the hula auana and hula kahiko styles.

Hula kahiko…

In the ancient times of Hawaii, as with almost all aspects of life, hula was integrated with traditional religion. Ritual played a key role and dancers — almost always men — were sometimes dedicated to the goddess of hula, Laka. They had to learn hundreds of stylized motions, many of which have survived to this day.

Hula kahiko is usually vigorous, requiring strength and agility. It was and is performed to chants — not music. Hula kahiko is also usually accompanied by pahu or drums of various sizes and types. Some of the drums are as small as a coconut shells, others are ornately carved from large tree trunks. These larger drums were and still are considered so important that some of them have been given names. Some percussion instruments and implements traditionally associated with hula kahiko are also used in the modern form of the dance, including ipu or hollowed gourds used somewhat like a drum by the dancers and chanters, puili or bamboo rattles, and uliuli or feathered gourd rattles that are usually shaken. The dancers also sometimes use iliili or small flat rocks like castanets, sticks to strike together, and even weapons or other implements that are pertinent to a story they are portraying.

The men often wore malo, a type of breech cloth wrap-around, while women as well as the men would sometimes wear voluminous skirts. Dancers adorned themselves with headbands, lei garlands, anklets and wristlets, often woven from various leaves and greenery — for example, the so-called "grass skirt," which in Hawaii is usually made of green ti leaves, but not the flowers commonly seen in . . .

Hula auana…

Hula auana, the modern form of the dance, is characterized by more fluid, graceful motions — often based on and inspired by their origins in hula kahiko. Beautiful, harmonious island music invariably accompanies hula auana, using guitars, ukulele and other modern instruments. The whole world is familiar with the genre of Hawaiian music that often backs up what most people now think of as, simply, hula. It's even common now days for hula to be performed to non-Hawaiian music. For example, many halau hula or schools include a White Christmas number in their repertoires during the holiday season.

The dancers often take special pride in their appearance, sometimes using elaborate, even elegant costumes with beautiful floral accents. The headbands of ancient times, which were made of greenery, are now intricately braided with colorful flowers and leaves into what is usually called a haku lei. Some dancers and their hula "families" spend hours and hours gathering and preparing these lei and other adornments.

Halau hula also spend hours practicing under the direction of their respective kumu hula or teachers. Most kumu hula have Hawaiian heritage and share a deep love of the culture. Many also operate their schools as a business, and the haumana or dance students usually pay a monthly fee and supply their own costumes and travel expenses. Like many high school and organizational athletic teams, halau hula often get involved in fundraising to offset some of these expenses. Parents also get involved, shuttling their children to practices and performances.

Some halau specialize in teaching only children, others adults, some mixed; and some only take experienced dancers while others will work with beginners. Halau hula thrive throughout Hawaii and in other parts of the world, and often come together either to compete — as in the famous Merrie Monarch Hula Festival each spring in Hilo, or the Keiki [children's] Hula Competition in Honolulu — or to display their talents, such as in the Polynesian Cultural Center's Moanikeala Hula Festival. Whether competing or exhibiting, their graceful dances are marked by precision and complex choreography . . . and, of course, the beauty of the costumes, music and flowers.

You can learn more about both ancient and modern hula in the Polynesian Cultural Center's Hawaiian village. began to include both keiki (children) and adult dancers performing both hula auana and hula kahiko. The festival is named in honor of Aunty Sally Moanikeala Wood Naluai, who served as the Polynesian Cultural Center's first kumu hula or "hula master" from its opening on October 12, 1963, until she retired in 1980. After retiring, Aunty Sally remained a hula consultant until she passed away in January 2000.

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