The Dance that Defines Hawaii

in Dance

The Hula is a dance that has become synonymous with Hawaii and luaus, it is iconic and so well known that it is always depicted the same way in the media. Almost all the time you will see someone making the movements of the dance -  moving their hips in the direction they are moving, while at the same time moving the arms in a wave motion towards said direction -  usually on a television show with a Ukulele playing in the background, and someone saying/singing "aloha-hay aloha-hoi" or some other sayings. A part in Disney's The Lion King, for example, featured it in a comedic fashion.

Hula is a dance that is accompanied by singing or chanting in the background. Funnily enough though, not many people, even Hawaiians, know about the origins of the Hula. For example there is no information about the the first hula dance, although it is said that the dance was developed by the Polynesians, who were the original settlers of the island a time long before the island was heavily populated by westerners and became a part of America, and is now an island filled with Hawaii rentals. The chanting or Singing is called a 'mele' and they both accompany each other very well, as they are a form of communication of what is happening.

There are various styles of Hula, but the most common types are the Ancient hula and the auana.  Ancient hula is the type that has traditional chanting and instruments, it was the form of dance performed before western encounters with Hawaii and is also known as 'Kahiko'. This type of Hula is what many considered to be a religious ceremony, or a form of dance that was to praise and honour chiefs. Performances had to be correct as even a minor error would make the performance seem invalid and could even be interpreted as bad luck or a omen. This is why for this form of hula dancers were secluded while training, and are said to be blessed from the goddess Laka, and it is only in the ceremony of success that they emerge from their secluded status. Kahiko is still performed today and the traditional look is still graced on the Hula dancers. Funnily enough the chants were never put down in written form, they have been passed down orally for many years.  The chants told stories of various subject matters ranging from creation, mythology, royalty and various other things.

The auana is a modified modern adaptation of hula that has been heavily influenced by Western society, this is the hula that has the musical instruments that everyone today has related to the Hula, such as the Ukulele, the guitar and the double bass. You could say that it was influenced by Christian morality and melodic harmony. The hula still relates to the same type themes and stories but now has more modern tales to represent. The costumes don't have to follow a traditional as there is a freedom of choice, for example women who are a slow and graceful dancers can wear formal clothing like mu'umu'u and men could wear a sash, whilst if there was a more feisty song then they can choose to wear more revealing attire.

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The Dance that Defines Hawaii

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This article was published on 2010/10/04