It’s pretty clear to most of us around the world – Hawaii is a special place. More than luaus, grass skirts, pineapples & tropical breezes, Hawaiian culture is it’s own gift – a gem that thankfully, despite the influence of outside forces, many have worked to revive and keep thriving over the years.
I’ve been dancing hula for the past four, soon to be five years, so I have experienced a personal taste of Hawaii while living here in the Bay Area. Today, I want to share with you the most important things I’ve learned from my time dancing hula, all of which came into clearer focus during my beautiful retreat time on Maui. Here are a few nuggets for you to ponder today!
(Patsy, an enthusiastic retreat participant high on aloha spirit:)
1. Hula is Sacred.
Interestingly, people often confuse dancing to poetry steeped in culture and history with… hula hooping. While I am sure there are some meditative other worldly hula-hoopers out there (in fact, I saw one of them at a recent visit to Cirque du Soleil:), I often recognize that I need to educate people on what it means to dance hula. No, there are no hoops involved. No, I do not wear a grass skirt, and the fast hip shaking, that’s actually Tahitian dance. It’s not all about sexy hips (although those do come in from time to time, particularly in dances honoring fertility, or those telling a sassy romance story;), it’s about expressing life and sacred poetry through movement and dance. Hula, I have learned, is a unique combination of dance, expression, community and prayer – it is sacred. What is sacred to you?
2. Everyone makes a stressed out face when learning something new.
As a yoga teacher, I know this. How many times can you remind someone to relax the muscles in their jaw, forehead eyes? Infinite. What I think works better though, and I’m going to try this over the next few weeks, is to invoke a spirit of aloha. To channel a flow of love and life through you as you move, and to allow that to fill you so much that it comes out through your face as you move. A few of my running buddies have noticed I tend to be all smiles at races – it’s not that I feel no discomfort or intensity, quite the opposite – it’s that bringing a smile makes the challenge that much more approachable. Try it sometime! Soften. Lighten. Give a smile when something gets hard… you’re helping yourself, and it might just be contagious!
3. Practice is power.
You know how our Kumu makes the best hula shows come to life? Creativity starts it, and PRACTICE makes it flow like magic. Through observing the dedication and commitment of my hula brothers and sisters, I have learned without a doubt that practice makes things powerful. The refinement that happens in each minute of practice (arms up an inch, gaze down toward your toes) and attunement to the group of dancers make the beauty and grace of hula emotionally stunning. Powerful. Like a plant, a pet or a loved one, any practice needs to be fed, to be cared for and attended to in order for it to grow strong. What are you feeding with your habits? How can you care for and refine your craft, what ever it is, to adjust the subtleties and to create more grace, precision and pure intention?
4. Inclusivity rocks.
On thing I love about hula is that everyone has their place in a halau. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do for work, or what your mental or physical strengths are – as long as you love hula and respect the group, you can take part. There is no right or wrong body type (which, unfortunately, is more than I can say for many kinds of dance) and no matter where you start, you can become more graceful and coordinated with practice. While many are of Hawaiian descent, there is not right culture, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity in our halau – all who appreciate this art are welcome. Take a moment & think, who can you include in your group to make it more rich and diverse? What groups would benefit from including you?
5. Honor your ancestors, respect your elders.
In the modern American pace of life, responding to immediate demands can take up a large part of our time. Do we really have time to absorb the wisdom of those that came before us, or to connect with the larger context of our small selves in a great lineage of people? While it can feel challenging to take these steps back, its not as difficult as it seems. Hula has taught me that I can connect with my ancestors on a daily or weekly rhthym – however often I want, really. And the respect for elders who are living? It’s a non-negotiable in any halau, and I love it. It helps that my parents are right next to me – I often fill the puka right behind them:)
This last one is so key I can’t even give it a number.
Has anyone ever graced you with a sweet smelling lei? How did you feel? Unless you are captain grumpy pants, you likely felt a surge of love, gratitude and warm welcoming in your heart. Kindness breeds kindness. The spirit of the island thrives in our hearts and we can bring it to the biggest of cities. Just think, if everyone were in the genuine aloha spirit while crossing the bay bridge, commuting home from work, or being in an import and business meeting. Who can you offer aloha to today, with no attachment to the response?
It all comes down to this spirit of Aloha. The classic sanskrit greeting namaste honors the light or divinity in each being at every hello and goodbye. Aloha, in an even warmer way, transmits love. It really is all about aloha, this connection, love, and helpfulness we can offer one another during our short time alive on this planet. With every group we create with its foundation firmly rooted in love, we make the world a better place.
That’s a wrap for today (pau:). Of course, wisdom is best when shared, especially when we can keep it alive and pass it on to future generations, so if you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends. And if you’d like to get email updates sign up above so you get these in your inbox.
Thanks for reading along and please do post your comments in the space below – I love to hear what’s in your mind & heart!
With warm, tropical, abundant aloha,
Hawaii has heart, and I’m so grateful to be able to feel that heart in the hills of San Francisco. A huge mahalo to Patrick Makuakane and all of the staff, members and supporters of Na Lei Hulu for their heartfelt teachings and dedication to the art & culture of Hawaii, and the preservation of hula.