Miss Aloha Hula finds 'the zone'
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By Wanda A. Adams
Assistant Features Editor
By Wanda A. Adams
When the new Miss Aloha Hula talks about the snow goddess Poli'ahu and her lover, Chief 'Aiwohikupua, she sounds like she's talking about the kind of star-crossed couple we all know: People who love each other, but just can't make it work.
It is this — her intimate understanding of the ancient tale she interpreted in her kahiko and 'auana numbers Thursday night — that allowed Bernice Alohanamakanamaikalanimai Davis-Lim to find "the zone" during her performance, leaving behind all sense of the present to become the beguiled, abandoned and longing Poli'ahu.
"I was in another world," she said Friday morning, perched on a couch in a friend's Waimea home where Na Lei O Kaholoku is staying during the Merrie Monarch Festival. "I was exactly where the story was, playing the movie in my mind." Her sister is convinced Davis-Lim made eye contact with her during the dance, "but I didn't see anyone — I wasn't even there."
Afterward, she said, she cried with gladness. Davis-Lim is convinced that "the story was appreciated. She heard me. She saw me. She knew I told her story — Poli'ahu."
Davis-Lim, 21, is a member of the sprawling Lim family of Kohala. Her grandmother is matriarch Mary Ann Lim; her mother, former hula dancer Charmaine Lim Davis. Her proud dad, who Thursday night looked ready to burst as he watched her being interviewed on television, is William "Sam" Davis. The family lives in Waikoloa.
Mary Ann Lim said that as her granddaughter danced, she was thinking of "Papa," the late Elmer Lim Sr. "She was the apple of his eye," the elder Lim recalled. "His punahele (the favorite)," a cousin agreed.
The Lims are known alike for their popular singing troupe, the much-lauded halau taught by her aunts, Nani Lim Yap and Leialoha Lim Amina, and the number of awards the children and grandchildren have won in solo competition. Davis-Lim won the Miss Keiki Hula competition at Maui's Hula O Na Keiki competition in 1998, when she was 13 years old, a title her Auntie Lorna Lim had won before.
The Lims are also known for their devotion to their Kohala home, and their commitment to researching and sharing its stories.
The Poli'ahu story is typical. Amina has delved deeply into the snow goddess legend and found that it had rarely been fully told, and that it had an important Kohala connection: The couple pledged their love by exchanging her snow mantle for his feather cape after a canoe journey along the coast to Kohala. This was the story Davis-Lim interpreted in her kahiko number, which was written jointly by the kumu and their student.
In addition, Davis-Lim performed a contemporary song about Poli'ahu, written by Kawaikapuokalani Hewett (also a Merrie Monarch judge).
The story of the couple's elaborate wedding was the focus of the halau's group kahiko song last night.
Davis-Lim said that, to her, hula means family first and foremost. "We may have our differences, but when it's time to hula, we're all in it together. It is what we have in common," she said.
Additionally, "it's a vehicle for expressing feelings that it's hard to express any other way," Davis-Lim said.
When she was working on her 'auana number, whose title means "the pain of love," Davis-Lim turned to her Auntie Lorna for help.
"It was difficult for me to grasp that — love and pain together," Davis-Lim said. She wasn't sure how to show the extremes without looking like a harlequin mask.
"Make it like a longing desire," her aunt told her. "The pain comes from the desire."
For Davis-Lim, hula became a "longing desire" early. She remembers hanging around the halau when she was too young to participate.
Lorna Lim, youngest of her mother's sisters, then and now a frontline dancer for Na Lei O Kaholoku, was her idol. Davis-Lim would show up at Auntie's house many afternoons to receive informal instruction.
Later, people would say Davis-Lim danced just like Lorna.
Davis-Lim just wishes she'd inherited Lorna's voice as well. "I like to sing, but that doesn't mean I sing well," she said, with a laugh.
Like all Miss Aloha Hula candidates, Davis-Lim has had to put hula at the center of her life in recent months. She studied Hawaiian language for two years at the University of Hawai'i-Hilo, but gave it up because the halau travels so much. She had a job she loved at the Fairmont Orchid Hotel but resigned after her kumu hula chose her as Miss Aloha Hula candidate last summer. She has been something of a hermit the past few months, declining friends' invitations because she was in training.
Davis-Lim, who cheerfully admits that she's not a size 3 and never expects to be, says preparing for the Miss Aloha Hula competition has been a pathway back to good health for her, helping her shed pounds and strengthen her knees, which had begun to suffer when she packed on the pounds in college ("living in Hilo with Taco Bell open at 1 a.m."). But she's also happy to represent the dreams of normal-size women who fear to compete.
"I always told myself they would never let me win, that I would have to work harder and go over the top to have even a chance," she said. "There was a lot of hard work, but it was worth it, totally worth it."
Reach Wanda A. Adams at email@example.com.