Tag Archives: Hula

The Chaos of Love


Copyright Boscia Photography 2018.

It’s typical for hula hālau (hula schools) to have an annual hō’ike (show) that allows the haumāna (students) to share what they have learned. Contrary to popular thought, the primary purpose of a hō’ike is not to entertain. Hula has spiritual roots as religious ceremonial rituals. At the hālau I belong to, we are taught that the true purpose of hō’ike is to honor and to give thanks for what we have learned about dance, history, culture, ourselves, and each other.

That being said, our hula hālau puts on a great show, thanks to our kumu hula (hula teacher). Oli (chants) for hula kahiko (ancient hula) connect us to the past and carry tradition forward. Musicians and vocalists provide a wonderful concert for the hula ‘auana (modern hula). The costumes and adornments made from fresh greenery such as ti leaves (la’i) and ferns provide a colorful feast for the eyes. All this combined with beautiful choreography performed by dancers makes for an enjoyable show.

We have to laugh after each hō’ike, though, when we gather for kūkākūkā (discussion) to share our thoughts and memories about the experience – backstage and onstage. For those of you who are stage performers or who volunteer to help backstage, you know what I’m talking about. Human beings aren’t perfect, so their endeavors won’t be. Things don’t always go as planned or as rehearsed. We roll with it and do our best.

Somehow each year, hō’ike is perfect when viewed through the eyes and in the memories of love. Members of a hula hālau share the common goal to learn and preserve the Hawaiian culture. We are taught to live by the core values of aloha (love) and ha’aha’a (humility). When people come together with this common goal and these shared values, love prevails, allowing us to accept ourselves and each other with all our strengths and all our weaknesses. This is what our kumu calls “the chaos of love.”

The best thing about the chaos of love is that it can work in every area of our lives – with our families, with our co-workers, and in our communities. With love, chaos can be embraced as a display of human emotions, honest and free of ill will. With love, mistakes are lessons learned for the future instead of embarrassments. And the icing on the cake is that when you don’t take yourself too seriously, you’ll find it easy to laugh at yourself and at life. So when you’ve done all you can, surrender to the chaos of love. You’ll be fine.

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.


Mea Wiwo ‘Ole (Adventurer)


A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Honolulu to dance in a hula show at the Neal Blaisdell Concert Hall. The show (hō’ike) featured 400 hula dancers from different Hawaiian islands, California, Montana, Canada, Tahiti, Japan, and New Zealand. The culmination of many months of planning, preparing, and practicing, the show was a celebration of Kumu Hula (hula teacher) Blaine Kamalani Kia and his 30 years of teaching. All of the dancers in the show were his students (haumana) or students of kumu hula trained by him.

None of us had ever danced in a show this big. The logistical requirements were challenging, to say the least. For dancers who were also organizers and leaders (alaka’i), the work doubled or tripled. The little sleep afforded by the pre- and post-show schedules that included rehearsals, making adornments from ti leaves, and ceremonial protocols, like our sunrise prayer service (haipule) at the beach, pushed us out of our physical comfort zones.

I’m not a natural performer. In fact, my Hawaiian name means “the reserved/shy one.” I dance on stage to conquer my shyness. Still, performing on stage doesn’t terrify me as much as making adornments from ti leaves and other plants and flowers. It takes me a long time, with many re-do’s, start-over’s, and assists from my alaka’i , to complete my adornments. Needless to say, I had some anxiety even before I boarded the plane for Honolulu. I had to work through my anxieties in an exhausted state, away from my home and routine.

The show was fantastic – a beautiful mixture of ancient chants (oli), song (mele), ancient hula (kahiko), modern hula (auana), and nostalgia. It lasted five hours, two hours past the scheduled three. We spent much of this time standing backstage, barefoot on concrete floors, waiting, and getting lined up to go on stage. Our feet, legs, and backs ached for days after.

But when it was all over and our tired and swollen bodies had recovered, we were left with wonderful memories, new friends from around the world, and a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I learned things about myself and those around me, I acquired some new skills, and I felt a teeny bit tougher.

This experience made me realize how exhilarating it was to do new things, in new places, in new ways. It made me see that I seldom willingly wander out of my comfort zone. If it’s true that people cross our paths for a reason, I met two individuals who helped me understand the importance of adventure.

On the flight to Honolulu, I sat next to a young man in his mid-twenties who was moving from California to Honolulu. He was a surfer who had visited Hawai’i several times. He had no family in Hawai’i, but he felt drawn to live there. He got a job with a local business, found an apartment, shipped his car and some of his things, and was now flying to Honolulu with two pieces of checked luggage. This young man was neither nervous nor excited, he was serene. His adventure would be as much inward as it would be outward in his new home.

On the plane back to California, I sat next to an unaccompanied minor. This poised and charming young boy, who looked eight or nine years old to my eyes, surprised me when he said he was 12. He was coming back from a visit to his relatives on O’ahu. This wasn’t his first time flying to Honolulu alone, but this time he had also flown to Mau’i for the first time to visit an uncle.

The young man and the little boy fascinated me. As someone who dreams of moving back to Hawai’i some day, I felt a vicarious thrill sitting next to someone who had the guts to pursue his dream and make it happen. As a parent of two grown children, I marveled at the young boy who boarded planes alone and flew across an ocean to visit relatives. These individuals ventured into the unknown with courage enough to outweigh their fears. Both had an aura of composure and confidence. Neither was driven by the need for attention or adrenaline.

Here’s to following the lighted exit path and leaving my comfort zone more often.


©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.




From Shy to Butterfly


My photo of a magnet I keep on my refrigerator.

“You know how you can tell a good dancer from a not-so-good dancer? A good dancer will never show herself in a group; she will always dance like the group. But you take her out of the group, she will turn into a butterfly.”* I love this quote from Kumu Hula Kunewa Mook. It captures the dual roles of a hula dancer: to dance as one with her hula sisters and to dance as a captivating soloist when she’s alone.

My Hawaiian name, Kahilu, means “the reserved or shy one.” I’m not a natural performer, and I don’t crave the spotlight, but I have my own way of spotting butterflies on stage, and I know when I feel like one.

When I see a dancer’s face, whether she’s a line dancer or a soloist, and her face makes me feel that she’s “in the zone,” really feeling her dance, I see a butterfly. The face of a dancer loving her hula radiates beauty.

No matter which line I’m dancing in – first, last, or in between – I know when I feel like a butterfly. When I’m floating to the music, visualizing the words, sensing the spirits of the past, seeing the Hawaiian culture move forward, and feeling love emanating outward and upward toward heaven, I’m in the zone, and my face can’t hide it. This moment makes getting past my shyness worthwhile.

“A’a i ka hula, waiho ka hilahila i ka hale.” (When one wants to dance the hula, shyness should be left at home.”) To my fellow shy and reserved dancers who love hula more than they love their comfort zones, may you feel – and dance – like butterflies.

*Kunewa Mook, Kuma Hula, Hula Hālau ‘O Kamuela, as featured in “Hula: The Merrie Monarch’s Golden Celebration,” a documentary by Pacific Heartbeat, KVIE (2014).

© Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2015.

Visions of Hula

MMF Hawaii-Tribune-Herald.com

Visions of Hula

Soft hands and gently swaying hips

Joyful hearts and smiling lips

Eyes that tell of mountain tops

Ocean swells and kalo crops.


The turn of a head

The flick of a wrist

A gesture to the heart

Tell of a lovers’ tryst.


Ancient oli

And modern mele

Pahu drums

And ukulele.


Pa’u skirts

And mu’umu’u

Fragrant leis

Made strong through haku.


Ipu heke

Keep the beat

Like the ancestors

Move the feet.


Ancient hula

Oli of old

History of a people

Must be told.


A culture lives

With love and honor

Though died the Queen

With betrayal upon her.


Dance for the past

And dance for tomorrow

Dance with aloha

And not with sorrow.


Visions from kūpuna

Come to guide

Hold fast to traditions

By them abide.


Noble Hawai’i

So wise and so strong

It’s you I love

Through hula and song.



© Living off Island, writingwahine, 2015

Photo from Merrie Monarch Festival published by Hawai’i-Tribune Herald