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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 20, 2006

Shaping up for the Merrie Monarch

By Zenaida Serrano
Advertiser Staff Writer

Maile Emily Kau'ilanionaopuaehi'i
poiokeanuenueokeola Francisco will pass on her Miss Aloha Hula title tonight, but plans to keep up the regimen that helped her earn it.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Three Miss Aloha Hula winners from left, Maile Francisco (2005), Jennifer Oyama (2003, and Natasha Akau (2004) dance together.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Miss Aloha Hula competition, 6 to 11 tonight

Hula Kahiko (traditional) group competition (no results announced), 6 to 11 p.m. tomorrow

Hula 'Auana (modern) group competition, 6 to 11 p.m. Saturday


Streaming video: www.thehawaiichannel.com

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These three Miss Aloha Hula winners from left, Jennifer Oyama, Maile Emily Francisco and Natasha Akau all are students of Sonny Ching.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Maile Francisco isn't big on running.

But since she chose to devote herself physically and mentally to preparing for the 2005 Merrie Monarch's Miss Aloha Hula competition, she ran like she never ran before in her life.

The hard work paid off for Francisco, who dances for Halau Na Mamo O Pu'uanahulu under kumu hula Sonny Ching. Not only did she earn the prestigious title after intensive training, she lost nearly 25 pounds in the three months she geared up for the event.

"For me, (preparations) started a year before, just trying to get myself focused and ready," said Francisco, 24, of Palolo. "The hardest part came in January (2005), when we had to do the physical exercising."

Training proved to be a challenge for Francisco, who said she was "too chubby," out of shape and lacking the stamina she needed to perform her physically exhausting 'auana and kahiko numbers.

Francisco worked out for hours every day. Her fitness regimen included running, stretching and doing hula basics, practicing her dances and chanting, as well as helping out with keiki classes.

Francisco also did special performances, "from a backyard lu'au to a convention, to build that self-confidence of being in front of an audience alone," said Lopaka Igarta-De Vera, Ching's alaka'i, or principal assistant.

Igarta-De Vera was responsible for conditioning her, often sweating right along with Francisco.

"I came skinny with her," he said and laughed.

His main job was to prepare Francisco to work with Ching, Igarta-De Vera said.

"As with the former two Miss Aloha Hula before her (Jennifer Oyama and Natasha Akau), my kuleana was to get them physically ready, get their voices ready and get them mentally ready, so that when (Ching) comes in, he's teaching the essence of the feelings, the emotions, the gracefulness of the number."

Francisco also altered her diet to shape up, giving up her beloved rice and McDonald's fast foods.

Even after her win, Francisco stuck to her "less rice" diet and remained active, doing special performances. When she isn't dancing hula or waitressing, she spends her free time clubbing or surfing with friends.

Francisco's reign comes to an end tonight, and she's determined to stay healthy.

"Hula is what kept me fit from when I was little, and I might take a break every once in a while, but I'm never going to give it up," Francisco said. "I want to be in line (dancing) when I'm a kupuna."

• • •

Maile Emily Kau'ilanionaopuaehi'ipoiokeanuenueokeola Francisco

Age: 24

Profession: waitress and bartender

Residence: Palolo

Height: 5 feet

Weight: 125 pounds

Stays in shape by: dancing hula. Francisco, the reigning Miss Aloha Hula, dances for Halau Na Mamo O Pu'uanahulu under kumu hula Sonny Ching. Francisco also loves dancing at nightclubs, going to the beach and surfing.

Interesting fact: Francisco, who exudes pride in her Hawaiian heritage, also is part Filipino and Portuguese.

Fitness goal: "To have abs and have a sexy body like Jennifer Lopez by this summer," Francisco said and laughed.

Maile Francisco’s fitness program

Workout habits: Francisco has hula class once a week for at least 2 hours; longer when preparing for special performances. In her free time, she also dances at clubs, and she surfs.

When and why started working out: Francisco’s grandmother encouraged her to start dancing hula when Francisco was 4 years old. “She taught me everything I know about hula and Hawaiian (things), so this is my way of keeping her with me all the time,” Francisco said.

My good foods/bad foods: Francisco limits rice and eats a lot of vegetables, including corn, broccoli, carrots and peas. Her weakness? Rocky road ice cream.

My biggest motivator: “Look healthy, keep healthy and have a healthy life,” Francisco said.

What saves my sanity: Hanging out with friends.

My next challenge: “To look like J-Lo,” she said and laughed. “To look as sexy and as natural as can be.”

Advice for those in the same boat: “Never give up and believe in yourself,” Francisco said.

Dancing it up

Reigning Miss Aloha Hula Maile Francisco — along with her hula sisters Miss Aloha Hula 2003 Jennifer Kehaulani Oyama and Miss Aloha Hula 2004 Natasha Mahealani Akau — share the benefits of hula:

• Hula offers a total-body workout. “It takes a lot of discipline, and it’s an all-around endurance type of (exercise),” said Francisco, 24, of Palolo. “Our arms get sore because we always have to hold (them) up — we don’t like our elbows hanging; our thighs, our calves, our knees (get sore) because we’re always bending; and our backs because there’s so much arching.”

• It’s a great escape. “We’ve danced all our lives, so it’s always fun because it’s like that getaway where you can leave behind work and school, get together with friends and have fun,” said Akau, 23, of Kaimuki.

• Hula also provides a deeper appreciation of the Hawaiian culture, said Oyama, 24, of Kahala. “It’s not only physical for me, it’s emotional and it’s spiritual,” Oyama added. … “I started when I was 5 and if I didn’t start then, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today.”

— Zenaida Serrano

Reach Zenaida Serrano at zserrano@honoluluadvertiser.com.