HILO » Tori Hulali Canha’s journey to being chosen Miss Aloha Hula began when she was a toddler and culminated in a performance that honored the things she holds dear: her kupuna and her Valley Island home.
Canha, representing Halau Ke‘alaokamaile of Maui, won the 2011 title at the Merrie Monarch Festival Thursday night by a slim margin of three points, performing a kahiko (ancient-style hula) about an ocean journey to sites on Maui, and an auana (contemporary hula) about love and affection.
"Hula is my life," she said after her win. "It connects me to my kupuna, to everyone that came before me and to my family. That’s why I love it."
A tearful Canha said she had practiced and prepared "so much" for months to get ready for the competition, and it was all worth it.
Canha, 21, of Wailuku, teaches hula and Hawaiian studies to elementary students at Kamehameha Schools. She holds a master’s degree in Hawaiian studies from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
She has been dancing hula since the age of 3, and her first kumu hula was Uluwehi Guerrero of Maui.
As Miss Aloha Hula, Canha will become an ambassador of hula to the world, but said she will also continue teaching because she enjoys it.
Thursday’s win marks the second Miss Aloha Hula title for kumu hula Keali‘i Reichel. In 2009 his dancer Cherissa Kane took the title. In 2010 his dancer Oralani Koa won the Hawaiian Language award. Last year the halau also swept the wahine kahiko, auana and overall divisions.
Of Reichel, Canha said, "He puts so much time and effort into what he does as a kumu, and it shows. His kupuna shine through."
Only two halau from Maui are competing this year: Reichel’s, representing Wailuku, and Halau Na Lei Kaumaka o Uka under the direction of kumu hula Napua Makua and Kahulu Maluo-Huber, representing Pukalani.
Reichel said he was surprised at the win but that it was all about putting your best on the table and, for him, putting songs of Maui out there.
For her kahiko performance, Canha, dressed in exquisite head and neck lei made of roses and a red pau skirt, performed a mele about an ocean journey to the bays of Piilani, the waters of Keanae, and Lele on Maui. A shorter version of that song is now known as "Ka Loke o Maui."
With a clear, strong voice, she chanted the oli "Ku‘u Lei Tuparose" at her entrance. She was confident and strong as she danced, seemingly transported to those Valley Isle places.
Her auana was a classic composition by Bill Ali‘iloa Lincoln about love through the image of a blossom entwined with fragrant maile. Her sweetheart, Mokihana Silva, was in the audience and said afterward that he was proud of her.
Canha was chosen for the Miss Aloha Hula competition because she was ready, said Reichel.
"I’m very proud of her," said Canha’s hula sister Nalei Pokipala. "She did Maui proud. She did her family proud."
The Merrie Monarch competition wraps up with group auana tonight, followed by the announcement of winners.