HILO — It was Maui’s Tori Hulali Canha of Halau Ke‘alaokamaile who took the Miss Aloha Hula title at Merrie Monarch last night by a slim margin of three points.
Miss Aloha Hula 2011
1. Tori Hulali Canha
“I’m just super-excited and super-honored to be able to represent everybody how I wanted to,” said a tearful and emotional Canha afterwards. “I wanted to make them proud. I’m so humble.”
Canha said she had practiced and prepared for the competition “so much,” but that it was all worth it.
Yesterday’s win marks the second Miss Aloha Title for kumu hula Keali‘i Reichel. In 2009, his contestant Cherissa Kane took the Miss Aloha title. In 2010, his Miss Aloha contestant Oralani Koa won the Hawaiian Language award.
Last year, the halau also swept the wahine kahiko, auana, and overall divisions.
“This is always a surprise,” said Reichel. “We come to the competition to do our best, and we bring Maui’s songs to the table.”
For kahiko, Canha performed a mele about an ocean journey to the bays of Pi‘ilani, the waters of Ke‘anae, and Lele on Maui. A shorter version of that song is now known as “Ka Loke O Maui.”
Dressed in a beautiful, red pau skirt, and head and neck lei made of several rows of roses, she seemed transported to those places in the Valley Isle.
Her auana was a mele about love and affection through the image of a blossom entwined with fragrant maile.
Reichel said Canha was chosen for the Miss Aloha Hula competition because she was ready, and that she had been under consideration for several years.
Canha, 21, of Wailuku, teaches hula and Hawaiian studies to elementary students at Kamehameha Schools. She has been dancing hula since the age of three.
As Miss Aloha Hula, she will become an ambassador of hula to the world, but says she will also continue teaching, which she enjoys.
“I’m very proud of her,” said Canha’s hula sister Nalei Pokipala. “She did Maui proud. She did her family proud.”
When choosing mele for the competition, Reichel says he follows his inner intuition: “I do stuff that I’m attracted to. In my old age, I’ve come to realize if you’re attracted to something it’s important to figure out why, and there’s a reason.”
That intuition is coupled with research before choosing a mele, he said, and as the months progress, hidden meanings come to light, adding depth to the song’s meaning as it is being danced.
Choosing the winner last night was a tough call for judges, given all of the excellent performances exhibiting different styles of chant as well as mele about places ranging from Lanai to Niagara Falls in New York.
Canha was followed by Manalani Mili Hokoana English of Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka in second place, Makanani Akiona of Halau Mohala ‘Ilima in third place, Chelsea Kehaulani Tacub in fourth place, and Maria Ka‘iulani Kanehailua in fifth place.
Puanana Ashley Reis-Moniz of Ka Pa Hula O Ka Lei Lehua took the Hawaiian Language Award.