Renowned hula dancer Beverly Kaui Rivera Noa of Honolulu, known to many for her trademark performance of “Lovely Hula Hands,” died early Thursday morning at The Queen’s Medical Center after a battle with cancer. She was 84.
The hula soloist is remembered for her performances of “Waikiki,” “Mi Nei” and a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” with famed singers including Haunani Kahalewai, Emma Veary, Ed Kenney Jr. and Nina Keali‘iwahamana. She graced the stage at venues from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s Monarch Room to beneath the hau trees at the old Halekulani Hotel.
“She was more than beauty and grace; she was classic,” said singer and longtime friend Marlene Sai. “Her style was just unmatchable and exquisite. She was classic in every sense of the word.”
Born June 14, 1933 in Los Angeles, Noa grew up in Honolulu and was introduced to the art of hula as a child by Louise Beamer of the Beamer Hula Studio in Waikiki. She sought out kumu ‘Iolani Luahine for training in kahiko, hula’s ancient form, while a student at Farrington High School, and began her professional career at Don the Beachcomber’s.
She was crowned Miss Hawaii in 1952, modeled for a few companies such as Alfred Shaheen and became an official “poster girl” for the Hawaii Visitors Bureau. She married Kenney, a Broadway singer, and the couple had a son, Ed Kenney III, but later divorced. She also worked for Chanel and, in retirement, as a hostess for her son’s restaurant Town.
Noa was inducted as a legendary hula dancer into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame in 2015.
In March she was selected for Hula Grill Waikiki’s annual I Ola Mau ka Hula award to honor her lifetime contributions to the art by kumu hula Michael Pili Pang, Robert Cazimero and Debbie Nakanelua-Richards.
She delighted the audience of friends and family with performances of “Lovely Hula Hands” and “Waikiki” in her signature style. Maile Loo, director of the Hula Preservation Society, called her “the incomparable hula stylist” on Facebook, where she posted a video of Noa’s “Waikiki” performance. The number of likes and shares was “off the charts,” according to Loo.
“We finally realized that it was the effect Auntie and her hula had on people,” said Loo. “She could move you to tears with her elegance, grace and unique hula stylings.”
Noa had shared with the hula society her love for Waikiki because it is where she learned to surf and paddle and where she had the opportunity to hone her skills as a dancer in many showrooms.
Sai, a friend for more than 50 years, said it took a lot of persuasion to get Noa to accept the award because she was so humble.
Patti Cook, another longtime friend who worked at the old Halekulani, described Noa’s performances as ones that would bring “a case of chicken skin and inevitably stir deep emotions about Hawaii nei.” She said Noa took risks in her hula “with moments of comedy and daring.”
Noa is survived by sons Kenney and Fred Noa, and two grandchildren. Service information and a celebration of life are pending.