For these hula dancers, this ancient cultural tradition is more than just a dance. “It’s a way of life... hula is a way of life,” Kumu Kawai Aona-Ueoka said.
A lifestyle that speaks for itself. With every motion of the hands, shake of their instrument, and step to the beat, there is a story unfolding right before them.
“It’s not enough to just dance, you have to feel the mele, you have to understand the story that its telling,”
Kumu Kawai Aona-Ueoka has been telling this to her students for the past 35 years, after her own Kumu told it to her.
“She said ‘baby, hula is life, it is the art of hawaiian dance, showing everything that we see, we hear, we taste, we touch, and we feel,” Aona-Ueoka said.
She is one of ten kumu hulas chosen to share her unique style of dance at the Lei O Lanikuhonua Hula Festival.
“It’s a free program, and it allows the kids to come and to learn the hula from good kumu hulas,” Kumu Twyla Ululani Mendez said.
More than 300 high school students, from 16 different schools, take part in this noncompetitive cultural event.
“It’s just awesome that we have a place that is safe to practice our culture,” Aona-Ueoka said.
The students step right into practicing with their assigned kumu. Five hours of learning a new song and picking up steps to a new routine.
Once the hard part was done, all that was left was to come together and share their different stories on stage.
“Some of the students were very green, and kumu hulas that teach in a halau have students that are more advanced at dancing, but it’s good for us because it keeps us in check,” Mendez said.
As for Aona-Ueoka, she has a different way of keeping herself in check. She remembers what her kumu taught her about living the hula, and makes herself an example for her students.
“What I have been trained in the hula, it overflows in my work in the community when I work with children,” Aona-Ueoka said.
So it was no exception that her passion for telling stories through hula would overflow here, at Lanikuhonua.
The festival brought more than just renowned kumu and their routines; it brought together people who love and live for hula.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from because the hula will bring alive what’s innately inside you already; whether you Hawaiian or you not Hawaiian, there is that something inside of you that draws you to hula and causes you to want to know more,” Aona-Ueoka said.
And it’s that something inside of these young hula dancers, and people like Aona-Ueoka, that will continue to tell the story of hula, for years to come.
Reporter: Michael Gooch
Photographer: Jenna Munoz