When she began her formal hula training with Halau Hula o Maiki at the age of 12, Vicky Holt Takamine remembers studying as hard for those classes as she did for academic subjects.
The school’s founder and namesake, the late Maiki Aiu Lake, was a renowned kumu hula (master hula teacher) of the 20th century and a key figure in the Hawaiian renaissance of the 1970s.
“Auntie Maiki made sure we learned the background of dances, not just their steps and gestures,” Takamine said. “We translated the Hawaiian songs and chants into English and researched the proper and place names that they mentioned, so we understood the stories they told. Auntie Maiki taught us to use resources that were plentiful for our costumes, so the forests would not be depleted or damaged. We made lei out of bougainvillea, mock orange leaves and banyan tree roots. For hapa haole numbers, we made skirts out of shower curtains.”
Today, Takamine is a well-respected kumu hula in her own right as well as the executive director of the nonprofit Pa‘i Foundation, which she founded in 2001 “to preserve and perpetuate Hawaiian cultural values and traditions for future generations.”
The foundation is sponsoring a new event, I Le‘a Ka Hula: Celebrating Culture, Preserving Traditions, with Takamine serving as its program director. Her halau and fellow kumu hula Robert Uluwehi Cazimero and Michael Pili Pang and their halau are planning the inaugural six-day celebration.
“I Le‘a Ka Hula means ‘There is joy in the hula,’” Takamine said. “Kumu hula and their halau find great joy in sharing hula, and we know audiences around the world enjoy watching it.”
According to Takamine, there are different interpretations of hula; the same basic body movements might apply, but there are many ways they can be put together.
“It’s like stew; everyone doesn’t have the same recipe for it,” Takamine said. “Choreography for the same song or chant can look very different, and there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way. Some schools are known for their distinctive style. For example, Halau Hula o Kukunaokala on Molokai uses the kui or stamping step in many of their dances.”
Conference attendees will be able to learn from kumu hula from Oahu and the neighbor islands who rarely teach in Hawaii aside from their own classes.
“We usually see them perform from a distance at concerts or festivals in Hawaii,” Takamine said. “I Le‘a Ka Hula offers hula enthusiasts a rare opportunity to meet and learn from them he alo a he alo, face to face, in an intimate setting. You’re not just sitting and observing; you’re an active participant.”
The conference will also spotlight respected cultural practitioners who are skilled in other Hawaiian art forms such as featherwork and lauhala weaving. With those instructors’ guidance, students will be able to make a lauhala bracelet and/or a feather lei to take home.
In the process, Takamine hopes attendees will gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Hawaiian language; Hawaiian songs and chants and the people, places and events that inspired them; and the artisans and kumu hula who have dedicated their lives to ensuring the Hawaiian culture remains vibrant and relevant.
“There is an olelo noeau (proverb) from our ancestors that goes ‘Aohe pau ka ike i ka halau hookahi,’ which means ‘Not all knowledge is learned in one school; one can learn from many sources and many teachers,’” Takamine said. “At I Le‘a Ka Hula, you can learn hula from kumu who have very different styles and methods of teaching and discover hula as it truly is — a powerful, dynamic, continually evolving art form.”
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won several Society of American Travel Writers awards.