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Hula Dancing Culture

An Introduction to Hula: A Brief Explanation and a Few Simple Steps

Hula is an interpretive dance performed to music and chanting or song. The art of hula has been practiced for centuries with a brief time of subversion in the 19th century.

One story goes that Pele's sister performed it for her after learning it from Laka who it is said was the original inventor of the dance. There are variations told but the involvement of Laka and Pele has never been in question.

Long ago, the hula was performed along with chanting and playing of percussion instruments. It was a sacred ritual meant only to be done in honor of deity. The chants told of myth, history, nature and devotion to Pele and/or Laka.

Over the years the Hula has evolved into a form of entertainment. The old ways have not been completely forgotten thanks to a renewed interest sparked in the 1970's.

Today, competitions and exhibitions are performed at festivals held throughout Hawaii and the western United States. Children, men and women all learn and perform the hula in both the ancient way and the modern way.

Females wear skirts and colorful blouses while males wear trousers with or without a shirt or a more traditional loincloth. Leis, wrist and ankle bracelets are worn. Females wear flowers or leis in their hair and men often wear leis or hats.

Every movement of the hands has a symbolic meaning - from ocean waves to palm tree sways; from tales of hearth and home to tales of battle. The hips and feet are moved in rhythm to the music and can be very simple or very complicated motions.  

The basic moves in hula are the swaying of the hips, vamping (side-stepping) and the moving of the hands to interpret the story as told by the song or chant. From there, the dances get more complicated. It is truly an athletic performance. When you are able to watch a performance of the hula you will be enchanted by the music, moves and smiles on the faces of the dancers.

Luaus are often incorporated as a theme for many parties in the United States. If someone says they are having a luau, the guests know they are supposed to wear colorful clothing and either bring leis or plan on receiving them. Sometimes the guests will be asked to learn a few hula steps as part of the party activities.

Here are a couple simple hula moves:

Start with your feet together and knees slightly bent. Lift your heels an inch or two off the floor and (count 1) step to the right with your right foot. (count 2) Follow with your left. (count 3) Step again to the right and (count 4) follow with your left. Stand in the middle, heels still off the floor and weight balanced on the balls of your feet. Do the same steps, this time to the left. That is called "vamping".

Simple arm and hand movements to perform while vamping:
While vamping right, extend your right arm to the right, palms down and fingers pointing to the right. At the same time, bring your left arm across your chest with elbow bent and point your left fingers in the same direction with palm down and fingers pointing right. As you step, move your wrists down - NOT your arms - so your fingers go up, then raise your wrists so your fingers go up. This symbolizes the ocean waves. Perform the same move when vamping left by bringing both arms to the left.

Here is a great hula demonstration video that's actually the Sonny Ching kumu hula group performing 'O Ke Ahi Lonomakua...

If you want to learn more about the hula, there are a variety of articles available online. There are even DVD's that will teach you how to hula! 

by Hula Jack -

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