I can’t even begin to tell you how many people have commented to me about how lucky I am to have a business built around my hobby. There is no doubt that I feel blessed beyond measure to have my artistic and literary talent blossom into a career that has been very successful, and I do in fact love every minute in my studio. It has not only been a lucrative business but a wonderful way to express myself and my creativity. My art and writing are a drive that I believe is genetically fused to my DNA. It no doubt defines who and what I am. But it is not my hobby… or my passion.
I dance the hula.
Now before you immediately think of the luau themed parties with everyone wearing plastic grass skirts, coconut bras and fake flowers or the little wiggle dashboard dolls of the fifties, let me clarify. It’s nothing like that!
I was raised in the islands.
Growing up in the islands, I was taught that hula is the very heartbeat of the people of Hawaiʻi. It tells the story of their hopes, dreams and history. It preserves their language and culture in a way nothing else can. I was always mesmerized by the hula. I was enrolled in classes after school as a kid and danced in programs my whole childhood under the direction of some amazing Kumu (teachers).
Every time we had visitors come to town, my mother would take them to the Kodak hula show, and I’d beg to go with them. I remember laughing at the joy Hilo Hattie showed as she comically danced for the tourist. But more than that, I was brought to tears as I watched the kane (men) and wahine (women) hula to the Kahiko style chants with such skill and precision that it took my breath away.
And then there was my favorite… watching the older women, the tutu or grandmothers dance. They would slowly and gracefully sway as they told their stories through ‘Auana style dance. I can actually remember thinking that when I became a grandmother someday, I wanted to dance like the tutu.
Fast forward 40 years.
I moved to the mainland, went to college, marriage, kids, and successful career. And with that rich, full life came more fun, little hobbies than I can even count. But none of those hobbies stuck.
A while back I got into scrapbooking. (Didn’t everyone?) I came across a photo of myself dancing the hula as a young woman and I swear my heart skipped a beat. Just as when I was a child, tears formed in my eyes and I was overcome with emotion, and it took my breath away.
What was this all about?
As a child I was so confused being raised in what many told me was not my culture. What did that mean anyway? After all, I was raised in that culture. I was embraced that culture, the land, the people and even the language. And yet I was continually being told I was an outsider and I didn’t understand.
My first knee jerk reaction to the swell of emotions if was feeling as I looked at this picture was to slap some glue on the photo, press it into place, turn the page and move on. Instead, I sat down at my computer. Still choking on my own emotions, I typed into the search engine: Hula Halau near me. What happened has changed my life ever since.
Here we go!
That search led me to a get-together where a bunch of local dancers would gather each month in Daytona Beach, FL. I was stunned to see the room filled with a bunch of haole (Caucasian) women, my age and older. They were all laughing hysterically and having a great time. There was a live band with three Polynesian men playing island music and two of the women spontaneously jumped up from their seats to the stage and started dancing.
Feeling a bit like I was intruding, the lead band member, a man I later came to know as Uncle Rudy, noticed me, and waved me in. At about the same time, the kumu, a then 91-year-old woman in a walker, named Waneta DeAngelo, stood up and started making her way towards me. She threw her arms around me and welcomed me.