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  • Writer's pictureHannah Telluselle

Finding Hawaiian Hula

Updated: Aug 23, 2020

I watched Hawaiian Hula being danced the first time I was at Waikiki Beach in Honolulu in September 2004. I watched the local dancers almost every night those weeks I stayed there. I cried most times too, because I was moved by the dancers' beauty. Not just because of their pretty dresses and flowers in their hair, but because my own longing to be beautiful was found as I found myself feeling the motions within, resonating with my former experience as a dancer. I thought to myself: ”That is the kind of woman I want to be” only to later learn that I already am; I just needed to reclaim that truth for myself and dare to live out that feminine side while learning to find and express pride and tenderness in a healthy and humble way. I have always felt too humble, too nice, too tolerant, and... too abused.

The first thing I thought of when I returned in December 2004 (on St Lucia-day; the day we celebrate Divine Light in Sweden), was to find a dance-studio where I could learn to dance Hula. I browsed online at the hostel and found ”Halau Hula O'Kawaiiho'omalu” that was located at the premises of University of Hawaii Center for Hawaiian studies, led by Jared Kukaho'omalu Souza, who then was finishing his degree and learning how to become a Kumu, both as Kumu Hula and Kumu 'Olelo. I was thrilled to be allowed to enter and dance with a small group with about eight women. Darryl-Lynn was usually standing in front of me so she was the one who taught me most of the motions. Leihua was the most pretty one, I thought, and also a great dancer. Nadine in the middle front was the most flexible and youngest one, dancing a solo number. They had also  performed at Waikiki Beach... Sometimes the  group of young men practicing before stayed and danced with us. And there was Neil, who I always watched because he was doing the motions really well, even though I at first learnt how to do the 'Uwehe-step like men. I felt grateful to be allowed to learn from Native Hawaiians. But perhaps I was a little too western, anticipating and expecting to be taught like a ”regular” dance-class. And by far was I not in tune with my own beauty, trying to get my hair to grow out, not accepting my natural style and trying to fit in and be accepted. Which I grew into being during the months to come.

I love performing on stage and was happy to learn a couple of choreographies that we were supposed to show at a local festival during fall 2005, but I couldn't stay because of the duration of my visa and had to return to Sweden because someone had broken into my apartment in Malmö, but the fact that I had become good enough to be part of a local Hula show even just for a couple of numbers, was such a confirmation to me. I never thought of performing in Sweden, because I needed the group. I just surrendered to the group's dance talents and followed by being one with the music as well as learn how to chant and dance Kahiko.

When I returned to Sweden in 2005, I wanted to continue to dance Hula but found nobody else here. I brought with me the Merrie Monarch DVD from 2005 that I had watched on TV in my little studio on Kaipiolani Boulevard and the CD with music from Kumu Jared and of course ”Some call it Aloha” by Brothers Cazimero who I had watched live once in Honolulu. I still love their music. I obviously couldn't remember all the choreographies that I had tried following but focused on a couple of motions and tried to set them together based on the lyrics that I did understand so that I could practice and learn more. I recorded a couple of videos, mostly for my own memory and to receive feedback and soon others' interest in me started growing.

I danced at birthday and bachelorette parties, at a club with a Hawaiian theme and held workshops at Dansstudion No1, Forum Fitness Academy and a Swedish Dance High School.

Online I was contacted by a woman from Florida who taught me how to do a better 'Uwehe for example, who also sent me a real Ti-leaf-skirt but made out of banana-leaves to Sweden. I started to do some choreographies to Swedish songs instead since I don't know enough Hawaiian language to interpret it correctly and out of respect for the Hawaiian culture.

In 2007 I auditioned for ”Sweden's Got Talent” for their pilot show and was invited to perform live on national TV for 1.5 million viewers. My goal was to win of course but oddly enough when I was asked what I would do with the money, I had responded that I wanted to invite ”my” Halau to come and perform in Sweden to show what real Hula is about. it wasn't to the judges' liking, seemingly based on their assumptions of coconut-bras and grass-skirts that I didn't wear. I was X-ed out before the singing even began of the song I was going to dance to, as to purposely make fun of me even though I tried to show the authentic kind of Hawaiian dance.

In 2010 I was finally able to return to Honolulu, to finish my Master's degree and of course to learn more Hula. I found Kumu Jared and went to his Hale in Waimanalo, happy to learn that he had become a teacher in the Hawaiian language at Kailua High School, but also just teaching Hula for younger people and old ladies. I didn't really fit in with either, and commuting to Waimanalo for practice with the Bus wasn't really a good option so I asked for his permission to seek another Kumu.

During spring 2010, I went to a lecture by Olin Lagon, held at University of Hawaii, about entrepreneurship and Kanu Hawaii (an environmental organization for building a community) but before he started his speech, Kumu Marian Ka'ipo Park introduced  herself with the song ”Maunaleo” by Keali'i Reichel and for some reason that song touched me really deep, together with her story about her own way to become a Kumu, not always accepted with her style either by some people of the traditional style.

A culture so rich and so profoundly important for many to learn must preserve its heritage, but at the same time, it must also evolve according to its members and the diversity that follows – an increasingly hot topic it seems. I met with Marian again and was accepted in her "Halau Healing Hula". She also got my former Kumu's permission to teach me. This was the perfect group for me, with a couple of other immigrants, most members in the same age like me with similar interests, values and ambitions. Melissa was a fun fairy, Kathy excellent as a friend (and great at Lomilomi and introducing me to Healer Lisa), Andrea to provide rides and comments, Karen with her relationship issues, Kimmo was one of two guys who introduced me to Mochi ice-cream and gave me a ride to one of our rituals for the Solstice in Kailua, to where I returned on my own many times, together with our Kahu Camilia, and Lauren who will become a great dance instructor if she isn't already, among others. I loved Kumu Marian's choreographies and learning how to use the Pu'ili - bamboo-sticks. I hope I eventually can house different Halaus among other activities to practice at Telluselle Living Center.

Due to all the hassle that Hawaii Pacific University put me through, I couldn't continue. In 2011 when I moved in to YWCA Fernhurst, I met Jocelyn, who has a line of ancestral knowledge of Hawaiian practioning and Hula, who helped me find my center again and practice a little healing. I also became a member of Unity Church of Hawaii where I performed together with the church Halau, led by Daniel De Castro, for Christmas and Easter.

Back in Sweden again in 2013 and 2014, I have continued to practice and share dances at small venues. What I do know is, God wants me to dance Hula, for me, for others and for Earth to pass forward the torch of the Aloha-spirit.

Kaholo is a motion that means to travel. Here is a link to a great movie about becoming a Hula-dancer and teacher. And here is the link to mine.

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