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The history of hawaiian dance

Updated on August 3, 2013
The Olapa hula dance group that is made up children dancers.
The Olapa hula dance group that is made up children dancers.
A ho'oopa dance group:)
A ho'oopa dance group:)

How Hula dancing began

Hula dancing is a very traditional dance that people from Hawaii like to perform for them it is an art from where dancers can express themselves by doing soft body movements and voice singing that can go along with the dance. As you start to see or learn about how to do a variety of hula dancing performances something that you will notice is that in this type of dance you are free to create movements of nature for example it can be about how the palm trees sway about with the air in a perfect sunny and windy day some Hawaiian dance steps can have a story to it.

One time a long time ago there used to be a goddess from Hawaii named Laka and she would separate the hula dancers into two groups each time there was going to be a hula show.

The two groups were called.....

Olapa - ( or also called Agile ones) this dance group consisted of the younger people that were involved in these original hula dances they were the among dancers who would give out a lot of energy to the hula movements.

Ho' o-paa - ( the steadfast ones) the elderly people would make up this group by playing instruments and singing.

Now there is something that people do not know about hula dancers is that their main dance moves have only six traditional moving routines. In other words there are other types of variations and ways that the hula dancers can use in their movements to show how beautiful and precious this activity is.

The beginnings of hula dancing originated back to ancient history meant to be as a ritual dance activity this dance was made for the Volcano goddess which was named Pele some people actually also say that his sister Hi'aka was the one that usually did the dance for her brother Pele. Which made Laka the goddess of dance another thing that was done is that there were also ritual prayers for Laka mostly they were offering that other dancers made for her. There have been a lot of stories that have been told about this ancient myth and if it exists so every-time you see hula dance performers that means that they are worshiping Laka the goddess of hula dance. A mele performance as how it is called is also a story about Hiaka and Pele.

Besides doing the hula dance they would also do chants that were in poetry type these were usually done by men this type of chant was named the Mele in which the men would make the poem chants and the woman were the ones that performed the chants by dancing to them

This is how hula dances are performed.
This is how hula dances are performed.

More about how the Hula dances were performed

Some instruments that were used in order to make the music sounds for the hula performances are:

  • Sharkskin drums
  • rattles
  • gourds and castanets

The costumes for the dancing were not made out of grass the female dancers would wear were wrapped type skirts that were made out of cloth the male dancers on the other hand wore loincloths, Leis bracelets, necklaces would also be worn in style. The Leis for example were not worn after a ritual dance it was one of their main fashion rules instead the Leis were to be put in place of the altar of Laka as a offering of flowers for the goddess. Hula dancing is not only about ritual dancing it was also a way for the people of Hawaii to keep track and remember history events from the past mainly because a lot of their history got lost in the 19th century.

This type of Hawaiian dance used to be called the Ha'a that was its first name then in the 19th century it got changed to Hula. When in 1820 some christian missionaries conquered the land of Hawaii they started to convert everyone that lived there to the christian religion and then queen Ka'ahumanu was into the christian religion as well so that in turn made her destroy the temples and the images of gods. Then when that happened Hula dancing was forced to be banned as a result that it was seen as a pagan dancing ritual with physical moves that the missionaries described as being vulgar to them, disgusting, and sinful to the religion.

This is how a hula dance costume looks like for a women.
This is how a hula dance costume looks like for a women.

Hula dance costumes

Usually in a hula dance performance the men and the women wear some skirts that are up to the knee and the material of the skirts are made up of palm leaves and flower leights that go around their own arms, the lower legs, and in the head as a headband for decoration in the hair. But when 1820 was around the woman what they would wear were skirts that were much shorter which looked good on them for when dancing in return the men what they would wear where loin clothes. However it was not till when 1820 came around that the missionaries created a clothing rule that every hula performer had to wear clothes that showed less skin for their dance shows.

This is what men wear as a hula dance costume.
This is what men wear as a hula dance costume.
King David Kalakuau
King David Kalakuau

However the dances were still performed but only in secret with the presence of a few couple of people that were around then king Kamehameaha reestablished later on the hula dance tradition by default by the 1830's after his insistence on religious freedom the missionaries were not able to make hula dancing go their own way so they decided to compromise and have the people wear high neck gowns with long sleeves instead.

David Kalakuau who was the last king of Hawaii who ruled Hawaii from 1874 till 1891 he was the one who bought it out to the open by improving the dance moves, costumes, text and songs which were somehow known to be called the Mary monarch an activity that the king most liked doing was to travel he used to like tog o visit other places and he also favored going to festivals and the celebrations which in turns there were dances done to honor him in a special way. From the early 20th century the prayers, rituals, training were still amongst the most important parts of a dance ritual.

Two types of hula dances that are done today are:

  • Hula Kahiko which is an ancient dance
  • Hula auana being a modern type of dance form


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    • Astra Nomik profile image

      Cathy Nerujen 3 years ago from Edge of Reality and Known Space

      Thank you for this lovely hub. Hawaiian dance looks lovely and I hope they keep it alive and flourishing and preserve it. It is an important statement of Hawaiian culture. It tells stories and is so beautiful to watch. The dances tell stories and I love it.

      I hope you get more comments here. Come on, Dance fans....