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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 30, 2006

For gracious ladies of hula, age proves an asset

By Ka'ohua Lucas

"Sheez, Mom," my youngest exclaimed. "I didn't know you could still dance hula."

"Eh, this luahine (old lady) still has the moves," I said, performing a quick hula step in front of him called an 'ami kuku. ('Ami kuku are three fast revolutions using the hips.)

It's about 10 years since I was active with a halau, and 43 years since I first began dancing hula.

"Ma," my 15-year-old teased, "you're ancient."

Ancient or not, the "mature" ladies who perpetuate this cultural tradition deserve to be recognized.

I would like to applaud the mostly fortysomething women of Na Pua Lei O Likolehua for their flawless performance at the Merrie Monarch hula festival in Hilo last weekend, even though they were not one of the overall winners.

Viewing the hula festival on television is like watching a slow motion replay at the Super Bowl. Every eye movement, hand motion, foot placement is scrutinized with the camera's eye. The lens captures an image that the naked eye can easily miss.

As our 'ohana sat glued to the TV set, we watched the unbelievable performances of each halau. But what caught our eye was Na Pua Lei O Likolehua and their kumu, Leinaala Heine.

"Look, Mommy," my 12-year-old said. "They don't even look scared."

It was true. The ladies' eyes exuded confidence, their posture erect. The placement of their hands was in alignment with their neighbor's.

When they entered the stage, there were no involuntary eye movements. No sheepish grins. No nervous laughter.

There's something to be said about "mature" hula dancers. Each movement is precise. The group moves as one. My kumu hula always reminded us that we should strive to be a cohesive unit.

"Not a single person should stand out," she would say. "You are to work as one."

One of Hawai'i's premiere hula dancers was the late 'Iolani Luahine. The dancer, chanter and cultural practitioner was known to many as a high priestess of the hula who possessed exceptional powers, she danced into her 60s.

In an interview, "Auntie" Dottie Thompson, cofounder of the Merrie Monarch festival, describes her friend, 'Iolani:

"Her dance was her life and her story itself," she said. " 'Io was such a beautiful person, an extraordinary dancer. She seemed like she would go into a trance. And her movements were like nobody else's."

Each halau competing at the festival last weekend gave an amazing performance. You could see that hula was a big part of their lives. But the gracious ladies of Na Pua Lei O Likolehua performed with the grace, dignity and fervor comparable to the great 'Iolani Luahine.

Reach Ka'ohua Lucas at Family Matters, 'Ohana section, The Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Hono-lulu, HI 96802; or at ohana@honoluluadvertiser.com.