Sunday, March 1, 2015

Hawai'ian hula

My classes are back from a week off for Presidents' Week (that's the official title — it's commonly known in wealthier districts as "ski week," but my students call it "sleep week"), and are continuing our spring semester trip around the world. This week we took up Hawai'ian hula — specifically 'auana (modern) hula, but we will be doing a kahiko (ancient, pre-European contact) dance next week as well.

Many of the world dance forms I teach — including Samba, Baile Folklorico, African-Haitian, and Congolese — are in the "I'm not an expert at this, but I have learned it and would like to share it with you" category... But hula is a little different: although I am still nothing like a true expert, I did perform with a halau for enough years to feel quite comfortable with the vocabulary (both physical and terminology) and to have a relatively large repertoire of dances to share.

I have a few students who have already studied various forms of Polynesian dance, at least one very seriously... When she walked into the studio Monday morning and saw the Hawai'ian vocabulary (kaholo, hela, ami, ka'o) on the board, her entire face lit up as she said "are we starting hula today?" It has been a pleasure all week to see how seriously most of my students take the form — in the first couple of days, many were already asking me if I would have vocabulary sheets to study! We did finish (though not perfect) one 'auana hula this week, Ka Uluwehi o ke kai ("the plants of the sea"); next week we will do a very short kahiko hula, Kilauea, before moving on to Tahitian.

On Thursday, we did a short reading on the history and culture of hula — just some bare-bones ideas about the pre- and post-contact eras, all that I can fit on one page — and I asked them to write in their journals something from the reading that surprised them, something they felt was significant, and something they were curious about. Again, I was gratified to see how many picked up on the concepts of hula being a form of communication and a way to hand down stories without written language, and how important hula is and has been to the indigenous culture of the islands (and how it was nearly destroyed when banned by the Europeans). I was also pleased to see the range of things students were curious about — why the songs talk about nature so much; whether the people still secretly danced while hula was banned; and "why did the queen get overthrown?" We already had some good discussions, I anticipate more when we see some video clips next week.

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