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Hula Dancers In Culture

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Hula Dancers In Hawaiian Culture

Whenever people hear the words “hula dancers,” they of course think of pretty Hawaiian girls in grass skirts and coconut shell bikinis, gracefully twisting their bodies to instruments such as the guitar or the ukulele. While this is probably loyal to the version of hula we have today, what people don’t know is that it actually has a rich background in Hawaiian culture. Officially, the current definition of the hula would basically a Hawaiian dance form accompanied by chant or song. But to Hawaiians, it is so much more than that.

hula dancers

The traditional kind of Hula that was being performed before Western civilization influence was called the Kahiko, and was developed by the Polynesian people that first inhabited Hawaii. The chant or song that acts as the accompaniment to the Hula dancers is called the mele. There are numerous myths and legends as to the creation of the hula, but essentially is it used as a form of tribute to the goddesses Laka and Pele.

Upon the arrival of protestant missionaries in Hawaii at around 1820, the Hula was labelled as the “heathen dance,” and was publicly banned. It wasn’t until 1874, when King David Kalakaua came to reign over Hawaii, that Hula dancers were once again welcomed publicly. The new form of the Hula was a combination of poetry as chanted vocal performance, dance movements, and costumes, and was called the Hula Ku ‘i, meaning to “combine the old and the new.”

Throughout the years, the Hula has seen drastic changes. Because of the height of tourism in Hawaii as it rose to becoming one of the most sought after vacation spots, Hula is done today largely for entertainment reasons. It was the onset of large scale hula shows in the 20th century that started this, namely shows like the Kodak Hula Show. Hula Dancers themselves have become quite an icon, being staples in any Hollywood movies that have Hawaiian scenery. They have also become symbols for sensuality and grace, because of the nature of the dance and its utilization of provocative parts of the body.

It’s safe to say that the Hula has truly hit the mainstream. These days, Hula lessons are readily available for everyone, and are being taught by authentic Hula dancers from Hawaii. But because of the sacred roots of the dance, the version that is being taught to tourists and Hula enthusiasts is the 20th century version of the dance, whilst the ancient, traditional version is being saved by small circles comprised of older practitioners. The old style is still used as a form of tribute to the goddesses, and is kept as a well kept secret of Hawaiian culture.

The Hula is the most popular feature of Hawaiian culture, and with good reason. The nature of the dance, chants and the music perfectly capture the Hawaiian beliefs and practices that respect their gods, and are in touch with their surroundings, their spirits, and with the higher beings that guide them and protect them in their everyday lives.   


by Hula Jack -

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