Growing Up in Hula

Island youths never fail to dazzle in the Queen Lili’uokalani Keiki Hula Competition. While taking a moment to reflect on the thousands of young hula dancers she’s watched grace the stage before the collective eyes of captivated onlookers, Jan Itagaki pauses to collect her thoughts and emotions.

Kyle Galdeira
Wednesday - June 29, 2011
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While taking a moment to reflect on the thousands of young hula dancers she’s watched grace the stage before the collective eyes of captivated onlookers, Jan Itagaki pauses to collect her thoughts and emotions.

“It makes me cry when I see them on stage,” says the Kalihi-Palama Culture & Arts Society director, who has watched children grow up with the native Hawaiian dance and beams with pride when recalling the keiki who not only went on to learn and appreciate the art, but now teach it to the next generation as kumu hula. “From seeing them come to rehearsal to when they perform, it’s marvelous.”

Itagaki, also the coordinator of the annual Queen Lili’uo-kalani Keiki Hula Competition, has watched youngsters work tirelessly to learn the various aspects of hula. She finds solace in knowing that through the prestigious competition, the intricacies of hula are making their way into the minds and hearts of keiki across the state.

“What we found was that the children get very interested and become more involved as they get older,” Itagaki says. “I see a lot go on to dance in Merrie Monarch, and they really become the dancers of the future. It makes me feel old that I’ve been here this long! You really see the perpetuation of hula through these kids.”

(left)Jaedyn Janae Puahaulani Pavao was crowned Miss Keiki Hula 2010. (above) Ka La ‘Onohi Mai O Ha‘eha‘e, 2010 second place Hula Kahiko. Roy Yamasaki photos

More than 450 dancers between the ages of 6 and 12 representing 23 hula halau will take to the Neal Blaisdell Arena stage July 7 to 9 as they carry on the tradition at the 36th Queen Lili’uokalani Keiki Hula Competition. Thursday’s action features the solo competition, while Friday and Saturday will showcase the Group Hula Kahiko (ancient hula) and Group Hula ‘Auana (contemporary hula), respectively. The competition kicks off at 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 1 p.m. Saturday.

Keola Dalire, now a kumu hula with Keolalaulani Halau Olapa O Laka, epitomizes the festival’s mission of continuing the art form. As the daughter of kumu hula Aloha Dalire, Keola recalls the 1990 Keiki Hula Competition as the pivotal moment in her hula life.

Halau Hula Olana, 2010 third place Hula ‘Auana

“I was 9 years old, and out of the blue as I rode to hula with my parents, I announced to them that I was going to run for soloist that year,” says Keola. “To their shock, I was very serious. With this type of mentality, I was very difficult to teach. My sister Kapua ended up teaching me; I was way too much for my mother. Even at a young age, I understood the pressure and expectation of being a daughter of a kumu hula and faced the challenge head on.”

The hard work paid off as Dalire went on to claim the title of Miss Keiki Hula that year, and got a step up in her sibling rivalry with the accomplishment. The process was instrumental in her becoming a kumu hula with the goal of sharing the art with multiple generations to come.

Halau Kekuaokala‘au‘ala‘iliahi, 2010 first place Hula Kahiko

“Learning these attributes when young and having them instilled in me so early has truly influenced me and the direction I have taken with my hula,” Keola says. “As a kumu hula now, I get the chance to pass on the teachings of my mother and kupuna to not only children, but to my own daughter. I feel if I can make a difference in just one child’s life, she could be the one to make a difference in the world. Our keiki are our future. We must malama (take care of) them with things pono (proper, moral). We can then rest assured that our culture and heritage will ho’omau (continue).”

In addition to the multiple Oahu halau, the competition is scheduled to feature three groups from Maui, one from Kauai and two from the Big Island. The competition also will include a halau from Japan that will

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