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

represent the country after winning a preliminary competition composed of Japanese groups.

“I’m so happy that we have so many outer island halau coming,” Itagaki says. “They’ve been doing so well in the competition.”

According to Itagaki, the competition materialized in 1976 as part of a festival honoring Queen Lili’uokalani. There were no specific times or holidays to recognize her, so the KalihiPalama Culture & Arts Society held the festival that featured multi-ethnic dance performances, including hula. The event honoring Hawaii’s last reigning monarch was held at A’ala Park for its first two years, and made stops over the years at Farrington High School, McKinley High School, Kamehameha Schools’ Kekuhaupi’o Gym and, finally, its current home at the Blaisdell.

“It started as a midday competition,” says Itagaki of the event that needed to be moved over the years to accommodate and provide comfort for crowds that grew as the competition gained prestige. “It really allowed the kids to have (a competition) for themselves.”

Luke Anthony Maghanoy earned the honor of Master Keiki Hula 2010. Roy Yamasaki photos

And, the children continue to rise to the occasion year after year, making the most of their annual spot in the limelight.

“I always wonder how the kids will top themselves from the past year’s performances, and they continue to surprise me because they do!” exclaims Itagaki. “It’s amazing what they can retain. When you think of children, you would think that there’s a limit. But it’s extraordinary what they do. It’s very gratifying.”

Itagaki also credits the kumu who spend countless hours “teaching the kids and being so patient.” While the task can seem daunting at times, Keola has learned that the reward of seeing her smiling students is priceless.

“It is not the easiest task to teach children, especially starting from age 3,” Keola says. “It takes a special person with patience and tolerance to connect with them, but nothing is more rewarding than to see their smiles on stage and feel their hugs as they greet and bid you farewell. Making a child happy makes the world happier, one smile at a time.”

Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka, 2010 first place Hula Kahiko

Tickets for the Queen Lili’uokalani Keiki Hula Competition go on sale at the Blaisdell Center Box Office July 2. Reserved seats cost $13.50 for adults and $11 for keiki ages 4 through 12. General admission seats cost $10.50 (all prices include box office fees). For more information, log on to:

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