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10 Things You Did Not Know About Hula Dancing

Updated on July 23, 2012

Hula dancing is a beautiful and artistic dance indigenous to the Hawaiian culture. The Hawaiian people’s are a very vocal group and they use stories as a way of passing on and teaching the customs and traditions of their culture.


Hula dancing is one of the ways that these stories are told. The dance is accompanied by a chant, called a melee, which helps in telling the story and is also accompanied by musical instruments. An entire story can be told through the movements of the dance and the accompaniments. Many people are fascinated by hula dancing, however few people know the fascinating facts that will be outlined below.

Origin and History

The origins of the hula dance can be traced back to the Polynesians who settled in the Hawaiian Islands around the third century. They used the hula dance to worship and appease their gods. Some believe that the volcano goddess Pele was bored one day and her little sister Hi'iaka performed the dance for her. Another myth says that Pele created the dance to celebrate her escape from her older sister. Regardless of which of these myths is true, it is clear that the original hula dance was a tribute to the gods of the ancient Hawaiians.


Westernization and Instruments

The instruments used for the music of the hula dance were very simple. They included beaded teeth which rattled, gourds beat on as drums, and even rocks pounded together. Today however many stringed instruments have been adopted to create the music.

Ancient hula called, kahiko, is the traditional hula dance, performed before westernization. Kahiko is performed with a chant and traditional instruments such as various drums, water-worn lava stones used as castanets, feathered gourd rattles, split bamboo sticks and rhythm sticks.

As western cultures began to influence the Hawaiian peoples, hula dancing evolved into auana, which is performed with western instruments such as the guitar, ukulele, and the double bass.


A Banned Ritual

At one time in Hawaii's history hula dancing was actually banned. In The early 1800s missionaries converted many of the Hawaiian royalty to Christianity. They denounced the hula dance as a pagan ritual and encouraged it's banning. However, hula dancing could not be destroyed, for it was practiced in secret until its reemergence under King David Kalakaua.


Halau - Dancing Schools

Hula dancing is taught in schools called Halau. These schools were originally held in temples to hide the mistakes of the dancers while learning. Today there are many Halau across the islands teaching various techniques and styles of hula.

The Halau were created to keep learning dancers pure. Thus, many rules to ensure this were enforced. Students were not allowed to cut their fingernails or hair. Their diet was also restricted and sexual contact was strictly forbidden.


Males and Females

Many depictions of the hula dance in Hollywood show only the women dancing. However, men and females are allowed to participate in hula dancing. Though the musical accompaniment and chants are traditionally only performed by men.

The original hula dance placed the emphasis on the chant. This chant was in the ancient Polynesian language and it told most of the story. However as hula dancing has evolved much more emphasis has been placed on the dance instead. Every movement of the body and the hands has a meaning and thus the story is told through these movements.


Costumes and Chant

Ancient hula dancer's costumes were simple. The men wore loin clothes and the women wore very short skirts. The bodies were decorated with flowery leis. Today however the costumes incorporate very long skirts, tops, and more decoration to create a more modest look.

The music accompanying the hula dance is still very important. The chant, or melee, is the conduit of the story and the movements of the dancer should tell the story of the melee. This melee is vital to the performance of a hula dance.


Hawaiin Dancing

Hawaii has a rich history and hula dancing is at the center of its culture. The ancient histories and stories of life can be told and retold through these intricate and graceful dances.

Hawaii have two major hula dancing competitions, the one is the King Kamehameha Hula competition, usually held in June and the other is the Aloha Hula Competition held in April.


Tourist Guide to Honolulu, Hawaii


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    • profile image

      someone 3 years ago

      nice work but do you know if the hula dance has a story

    • SAFlights profile image

      SAFlights 6 years ago from South Africa

      Thank you for the positive feedback. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • Laura du Toit profile image

      Laura du Toit 6 years ago from South Africa

      Excellent hub - good visuals and intersting less known facts. Well done - feel like going to Honolulu !

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Marisa Wright 6 years ago from Sydney

      Interesting explanation of what hula dancing is all about. I always like to see Hubs about dancing, thanks!