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Say Aloha to Hawaiian Hula Dance

Updated on October 19, 2011
Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom is a keen observer of life. She shares her personal experiences and opinions in helpful and often amusing ways.

Bring the Islands to You

Ah, the hula. If you've ever been to Hawaii you have undoubtedly enjoyed the exotic, hip-swaying dance called "hula." Beautiful island women (and men) tell stories and "act out" the music through dance steps, particularly their graceful arm movements.

The musical accompaniment is distinctly Hawaiian -- lilting melodies featuring ukulele, guitar and bass guitar. Some songs are punctuated by the dancers banging conga-like gourd drums or rhythmically tapping together long sticks.

But hula is not just an island treat. It's readily available stateside, as well. The dancers likely won't be wearing grass skirts and coconut bras, or even playing their own ukuleles. But the dances are authentic and the effect is quite hypnotic (even without any Blue Hawaiis, Coco Locos or spit roast pig for ambiance).

Stereotypical hula girls with ukuleles
Stereotypical hula girls with ukuleles
With those long white beads this lovely woman could have been on the stage today.
With those long white beads this lovely woman could have been on the stage today.

Expanding Cultural Horizons

Today I had the opportunity to attend a celebration of Hawaiian culture, music and dance. Now I must admit, my taste in performing arts generally runs much closer to avant garde live theatre and the occasional ballet (e.g., my annual trip to the Nutracker). If I'm going to a "concert" it's usually either a rock 'n roll band or the philharmonic.

But a dear friend of mine has been taking hula lessons. Whenever I see her she gushes about how much she's enjoying her "hula halau" (halau means school or academy), the Ohana Dance Group out of Sacramento. She's been rehearsing for weeks. So I decided to go and be supportive.

I was more than pleasantly surprised. The concert was absolutely delightful.

Main Attraction: Faith Ako

The centerpiece of the concert was Faith Ako, a very talented singer whose banter with the audience showed her to be the consummate professional. She introduced herself as being from "Island Santa Rosa" and her musicians from "Island Livermore" and "Island Berkeley" (a little Hawaii humor -- these are obviously SF Bay Area cities).

Faith Ako's first CD release, "Ku Kahi" won the 2007 Hawaii Music Award for Traditional Hawaiian Music and New Artist of the Year. It was also nominated for a Na Hoku Hanohano award.

I mention this only because for me, this was very much a "who knew?" kind of experience. Who knew there were Hawaiian singers besides Don Ho (of "Tiny Bubbles" fame)? Who would have guessed there'd be one living in the next town over from my brother? And who knew they had music awards specifically for Hawaiian traditional music? Certainly not me!

You Don't Have to be Hawaiian to Dance the Hula

Besides being thoroughly impressed with Faith Ako, another thing that struck me was the number of Caucasian dancers. And I don't only mean white women, but also white men! This was really eye-opening for me. I wondered what attracted them to the traditional dance of the Hawaiian Islands. Some were obviously mixed couples. That only makes sense -- a native wife introducing her husband to her culture and inviting him to participate in its expression on stage. But there was one family of tall blondes that stood out -- father, mother, daughter and teen son. The son didn't look entirely thrilled with his part, but he gamely shook his butt along with the ladies. That kid definitely got my vote for bravest warrior of the day.

Now why would this phenomenon fascinate me so much? I can only surmise that my personal experience (admittedly limited to one visit to Maui) imprinted on my mind that Hawaiians dance the hula. Just as, by and large, those who perform Irish step dancing tend to be Irish (and not Hawaiian) or Taiko drummers tend to be Japanese, not Italian, Polish or Lithuanian!

But I'm getting too hung up on a technical detail. Back to the dancing itself.

The blowing of the conch shell
The blowing of the conch shell
Always some flowers in hair or on head
Always some flowers in hair or on head
Color coordinated print dresses
Color coordinated print dresses

Colorful Costumes

The performance began with the traditional Hawaiian conch shell blowing. All dancers paraded in through the auditorium singing. It reminded me of the processional into church; the singing very chant-like.

With each new song a different combination of dancers took the stage. How wonderful to see such a range of ages -- women in their 20s dancing side-by-side with grandmothers. Each number required its own color scheme. All dancers might be attired in floral sheaths of the same fabric with contrasting leis (flower necklace), or in a rainbow of colors; one dancer in red, one in purple and one in yellow.

It bears noting that these dancers did not wear grass skirts or coconut bras. There was nary a bare midriff to be found! However, all of the dancers, both male and female, were barefoot.

One of my favorite numbers -- for sheer novelty -- was the "Firemen's Hula." Instead of floral dresses, the dancers wore navy blue pants, white collared short-sleeved shirts and silver badges, simulating firemen. You could tell by their arm movements (lots of chopping motions) the song had to do with fighting fires.

Another fun number featured three couples. The women danced seductively in unison while their partners mostly looked on appreciatively. Again, I don't know what the lyrics said, but the dance moves suggested a good-natured mating ritual. The audience whistled and hooted. At the end, Faith Ako proclaimed, "Now that dance was sassy!"

Ipu Heke - gourd drum
Ipu Heke - gourd drum

A True Performing Art

Needless to say, I didn't understand a single word of the singing. But that's ok. The spirit of Hawaiian music is universal. And very, very soothing (with a few uptempo songs for variety).

By the end of the afternoon I felt a new appreciation for the pageantry of the performance and the art of hula dancing.

Seeing the Ohana Dance Group and listening to Faith Akso made me want to learn more about Hawaiian culture.

The experience was incredibly rich and stimulating -- actually right up there with a good ballet or opera. I can only imagine how much more moving it would be with an understanding of what the dance moves actually mean!

Hula -- California Style!

Hawaiian Dance

Do you like hula dancing?

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    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      5 years ago from Germany and Philippines

      I love hula dancing. Hula dancing was popular in the Philippines in the 70´s and it was always part of the program in our school. I could still remember the music in my mind dancing hula-hula. It was , "Pearly shells from the ocean, shining in the sun, shining in the shore ...". An inviting music for me to dance;-) Thanks for reminding me those old days. Have a nice weekend!

    • Richard83 profile image


      7 years ago from West Virginia

      Such a well presented hub. You are indeed a talented writer. I really love the art of the dance. Many people think that it is an easy dance but it is not. I wish I was able to go there myself. Best wishes.

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Beautifully said, Michael AngelOH!

    • Michael AngelOh profile image

      Michael AngelOh 

      9 years ago from Hawaii

      Hawaiian Hula is the Aloha Spirit in action. Beautiful Healing Arts movement and form...

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Kate Swanson 

      9 years ago from Sydney

      Mighty Mom, the side-to-side hip movement in belly dance can be quick and "jiggly" or slow, flowing and rhythmic.

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Hi Marisa, Interesting comparison. After I saw my friend's recital I thought about taking belly dancing lessons. I hear it's great exercise!

      The particular hula I watched is not the quick, jiggly kind. It's flowing and rhythmic. More ukelele and less drumming.

      Thanks for commenting. MM

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Kate Swanson 

      9 years ago from Sydney

      Hula dancing is lovely to watch and great fun to dance (although I must admit, I've only danced it at parties where there's been a show and the audience was invited to join in - no technique there!)

      I am a belly dancer and I've often wondered if there is a difference in the way the hip movement is achieved. In belly dance we move our hips in lots of different directions, not just side to side, of course - and we don't have the complex story-telling hand movements.

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Hypnotic is the word alright. You are getting very calm, very sleepy, very happy....! Aloha!

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 

      9 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      Fascinating and informative read. Yeah I agree with most everyone who commented, the dance has that hypnotic quality. I mean I'd rather see hips than a pendulum! :D

    • emievil profile image


      9 years ago from Philippines

      I haven't seen much hula dancing (unless you count the Walt Disney's Lilo and Stitch) but I think it is one of the most graceful dances I ever saw. And the music is quite something - lively, upbeat and very uhhhmmm inviting =). Great hub MM.

    • Lady_E profile image


      9 years ago from London, UK

      Very interesting Read. It amazes me the way the women do that Hula dance without moving the upper body. :)

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      We can all use more hula in our lives, dohn! i didn't realize how soothing it is. ahhhh. i picture myself on a beach in hawaii right now! MM

    • dohn121 profile image


      9 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      I'm all in, MM! I've been wanting to go to Hawaii since I forever. My sister has been there twice and each time she went I got all jealous...It's due time that I go too. Besides, I could use a little "Hula" in my life!

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Whoa, Chica! Way cool new avatar. Very pop arty. Me likes!

      And yes, let's get planning that retreat. I so need a vacation. Can you even imagine???

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      One of my best friends is a Hawaiian dancer...I have done it a few times. Its is definitely an awesome dance! Count me in on the HP retreat! I need some Fun in the Sun!

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      LOL Kimberly. Sounds to me like "old behavior" only my mops would not be clean necessarily.

      Not strange at all. Hope that's the anser you were looking for:-). Let er fly, I say! And please take pics and post them for us, will ya???? Please?? MM

    • profile image


      9 years ago


      If you hula at home using two clean mop ends for a skirt and just let it fly and go topless, over 40, Is that considered strange to you? LOL


    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      I'm telling you guys, we need to plan a HP retreat. Hawaii is not all that far from the HP headquarters in SF (well, ok, it's not that close, either). But wouldn't it be neat to bring all our fave friend hubbers together on an exotic island? No wait -- now my mind is getting too crazy into the idea of "Lost" and voting some trolls off the island.

      Never mind.

      Just everyone enjoy the hula, That's what I was hoping for with this hub! Thanks for sharing your hula memories with me! MM

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Finally got the photo's=fantastic-go girl.

      Kimberly,for sure a fan


    • SweetiePie profile image


      9 years ago from Southern California, USA

      I saw some great dancers when I went to the Paradise Cove Luau on the island of Oahu. Yes the production is touristy and somewhat cheesy in some respects, but the dancers are very authentic and well practiced. They had dancers from several Polynesian countries, but my favorite dances are the Tahitian ones. I still love the scene with the traditional Tahitian dancers on Mutiny on the Bounty (1962).

    • hublim profile image


      9 years ago from Scotland

      I was in Hawaii a year ago and absolutely loved it, a place I have never seen anything like in my life.

      The Hula dancers were awesome to watch and typify the Ohana lifestyle.

      I can’t wait to get myself back there!

    • shamelabboush profile image


      9 years ago

      Aloha MM, a breathtaking island and charming hula dance. May be I'll try it when I visit Hawaii next time :) Thanks.

    • mayhmong profile image


      9 years ago from North Carolina

      I dream of going to Hawaii and get to experience their culture. Glad to know to know more facts about their music and performance! Its no wonder the people there stay so slim. ;)

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      hi advisor4qb and AIDY. Wouldn't it be neat to have HP roadtrip to Hawaii? Well, of course,it would not technically be a "road" trip as you can't drive there. But you get my drift. AN hp convention on the sands of Kuai!

    • profile image

      Am I dead, yet? 

      9 years ago

      If only I can visit Hawaii...see the hula dance up front and in person! Another place on my 'to do' list before I leave this earth! Thanks so much for sharing.

    • advisor4qb profile image


      9 years ago from On New Footing

      Cool hub!

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      TM - You funny lady! I noticed that you don't have to be svelte or even particularly coordinated to hula. These ladies were wearing mumus (moomoos?) and they were not tight. I;m deff liking that better (at my age) than bare midriff!

      But when you say break something -- do you mean your hip, or your hip would bump into something and break it. LOL~!

    • Triplet Mom profile image

      Triplet Mom 

      9 years ago from West Coast

      I love the hula only because I know if I try and move my hips that way I could possibly break something.

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Kimberly -- I'm bummed that you can't see the pics. They really tell the story much better than my words ever could. Hope you get them to come up later.

      Ripplemaker -- Thank you! I don't know where you live (I could look it up) but hope you are in a locale wehre live Hawaiian Dance is prevalent.

      The Ohana Dance Group performs at L&L Hawaiian Barbeque restaurants quite often, too.


    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 

      9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      I see the photos on my end :) What a lovely hub. I must say you made me want to see a live Hawaiian Dance :) Thanks MM.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Nope, no pictures anywhere-I'll try again this evening

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      MM, it looks like you did a ton of work, great topic too-can't get any of the pictures - maybe I'm not signed in. I'll check-I'm sure it's on my end

      Lot's of Hubs



    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Nancy's Niche. Thank you!

      Fastfreta - I wouldn't discount your abilities so quickly. Hula isn't belly dancing. Of course, I haven't tried it so don't know how hard that "gentle swaying" is to really do. It sure looks beautiful, tho! Maybe you should go back to Kuai and take some lessons. I'd be glad to go with you!

      Wesley -- Ha ha. I thought the first thing every visitor to Hawaii (all islands) did is to get lei-d right at the airport! I like your recollection. Pretty good trip, eh?

      BKCreative -- Like Mexicans, California has quite a lot of Pacific Islanders because of our proximity. Not sure how difficult it would be to find quality Hula halau in Brooklyn, but it should be possible.

      If you take lessons, please share them with us in a hub (or hub series!). We can link our hubs together if you like.

      Funny you should mention belly dancing, as that is what I want to try.

      WSP -- You crack me up, dude. The first time I read your comment I thought your dad wore that tie to the hospital when you were born. Now THAT would have been interesting!

      Your dad sounds like a colorful fellow. The apple (or in this case, coconut) doesn't fall far from the tree, does it?

    • BkCreative profile image


      9 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      This is something I would love to do!

      I've tried belly-dancing over the years and loved it. Hula is such a great way to stay limber and keep the body in shape. I'll try it now!

      Thanks for all the information!

    • wesleycox profile image


      9 years ago from Back in Texas, at least until August 2012

      When I went to Hawaii when I was 10, I saw hula dancers near the airport. I was transfixed by their dance and, being ten, enticed by the beautiful women. You could say I got lei-d when I was ten. Great hub on a wonderful cultural gem.

    • wsp2469 profile image


      9 years ago from Alta Loma, Ca

      I was born in Hawaii on Oahu in what was then a military hospital. The first hula girl I ever saw was on this hand-painted tie my father had in his closet. The girl was painted on the tie wearing nothing but a lei. (You should have seen the detail!) Her grass skirt was individual loops of thick thread and moved when the tie moved. It was pretty cool and I am not sure but I think my ex-wife donated it to Goodwill OR my dad still has it in his closet! There was also this photo album that had a pic of a real hula girl dressed just like the one on the tie only the lei was NOT strategically placed! Not too many years ago I almost hooked up with a hula girl myself, in fact. There's something about a girl who gives you your first good lei . . . (You'll want to see my next hub, by the way.)

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 

      9 years ago from Southern California

      This hub did remind me of my trip to Kauai. I'd love to learn to dance the hula, sadly my time for such vigorous hip action has passed. I, however, love to watch, and that's what I will do. Thank you MM, great hub.

    • profile image

      Nancy's Niche 

      9 years ago

      Very enjoyable article… Hawaiian music is universal and quite calming…

    • Mighty Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Reid 

      9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Thank you both for commenting. I am a new convert but if my friend Michelle can do it, I can do it! It's beautiful. MM

    • DeBorrah K. Ogans profile image

      DeBorrah K Ogans 

      9 years ago

      Mighty Mom

      I think the Hawaiian Hula Dance is Beautiful. Their hand movements are so graceful and I am told they tell a story.

      Thank you for sharing their wonderful rich culture.


    • IslandVoice profile image

      Sylvia Van Velzer 

      9 years ago from Hawaii

      Fabulous! I love hula, and i'm so glad i live in hula land!


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