Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hula 'Auana

Among the different Hawaiian dances--the repertoire includes emotional, historical and spiritual themes--my favorite type is the westernized Hula 'Auana, the form that developed after the arrival of missionaries to the islands.

Hula 'Auana is probably the form you are more familiar with--the slow swaying and the arm waving from side to side is often the caricature portrayed of Hawaiian dance. But it is so much more complex than it looks. Hula is often taught by "kumu" or masters of the dance, who don't just pass on the dance techniques but also the cultural and moral values that sustain the Hawaiian identity. They possess and pass on the oral knowledge so that Hawaiian history would not vanish but live on.

A kumu will often spend as much time lecturing about the spirit of the hula as he would train his students in the dance choreography. There is a set of disciplines that involve the whole mind, heart and body, you can not truly know the hula unless you are putting 100% of yourself into it. With the basic few moves that you learn comes a multitude of creative possibilities to execute the story you are telling through the dance. To acheive anything in the hula, you have to face many challenges. Most dancers find it emotionally exhausting and exhilerating at the same time. For them, it's more than a performance. It often drives them to a point of vulnerability both emotionally and physically.

In America, it is wrestling or boxing. In Korea, you have tae kwon do. In Japan, there is karate. In China, shaolin kung fu. In Hawaii, it is hula. In fact, most martial arts are a type of dance. In fact, there is a hula about surfing.

In the previous post, I included a YouTube video of women dancing Hula 'Auana. They are wearing muumuu's with high necks, fitted bodices, long sleeves and full skirts, like around the 1800's when the missionaries were introducing clothing. The music is extremely slow and the women move to it with smaller, gentler gestures than the ancient hulas. Hula in Hawaii has never been the fast hip dance like in Tahiti. The ancient hula typically includes a mele or a chant, as well as more abrupt and forceful moves. When the beat picks up, like in a war chant (purity warning, this link involves men in loincloth but it isn't as revealing as men in ballet wearing tights, which in my opinion is much more, um, obvious), the moves do get faster, but it usually involves more steps and complicated arm movements.

Hula 'Auana is more poetic, and because of Christian influence, became a form of prayer as well. In the previous video, the troupe simulate the graceful movements of nature, as nature includes signs of God's aloha or love, as expressed in Romans 1:19-20. So the dance is an acknowledgement of God as seen in His creation. As a group, the women become the waves on the ocean, a group of trees swaying in the wind, the sun shining brightly, colorful fish swimming in the water and dewy tropical flowers blossoming in the forest. All that God has made shows His invisible qualities, especially His aloha. In the beginning of the dance, the narrator ends his poem about aloha with "Mahalo Makua", which means "Thank you, Father God"--"Makua" is specific to the God of the Bible and used in prayer.

So, I thought I would write a little more about the Hula 'Auana so that you can appreciate what you are looking at as you watch the video.

John 1: 1-5
1In the beginning, the Word already existed. He was with God, and he was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 He created everything there is. Nothing exists that he didn't make. 4Life itself was in him, and this life gives light to everyone.

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