Hula: Beyond a Checkbox on My Bucket List


originally published on May 5, 2015

“Here for hula?”


“All the way to the back of the schoolyard.”

“Thank you,” I reply with a smile.

A line of women holding their registration forms and tuition checks greets me. Just beyond a set of tables an already bustling cafe-torium awaits.

I exchange papers and money for a ready-made name tag and walk up to a rack of hula skirts in every hue of the rainbow. A floral pattern in a sunset gradient catches my eye, but I expend my energy ignoring it, skimming over the skirts on either side instead.

“How much do these cost?” I ask the seamstress standing by.

“Sixty dollars.”

“I didn’t bring extra cash with me,” I insert, thinking this is the end of the conversation.

“If you’re going to be here next week you can pay me then,” she offers.

The idea makes me squirm. She can indeed count on me to pay her, but I’m uncomfortable putting her in such a position.

I retreat to the cafe-torium, put my things in a small pile near others’ small piles, and take a seat in the last row.

The room is packed. I am surprised at how much it doesn’t smell like ham and cheese lunch pockets in here.

Remnants of play sets line the edges of the stage. Indiscernible lines of different shades, presumably for various sports, snake their way underneath patiently waiting dancers.

I feel unsettled and am unable to identify the source.

I sit on the hard floor with my legs crisscrossed, wishing I had a bolster or yoga mat underneath me. I uncross my legs and hug them into my chest with my arms. No, this doesn’t feel right either.

Then it hits me, a jolt from the inside — I *do* have extra cash in one of my jacket pockets.

I hurriedly shove my feet back into my shoes and jog outside, waving the bills victoriously over my head as I approach the row of seamstresses.

I sweep my head back and forth across the racks, careful not to make eye contact with the orange and yellow number.

Then another jolt, again from the inside — What are you doing?!

“I’m just gonna go for it,” I announce to the ladies beside me, as if they are privy to the goings on inside me.

My daily mom uniform consists of unfashionably-saggy, blue jeans and a solid black or gray, long-sleeved T-shirt. It would be easy; it would be expected for me to choose a skirt from the lower half of the rainbow.

Choosing a flattering yet understated color and pattern is the safe thing to do, is what would help me blend in with the sea of other dancers.

But there is a wiser voice inside me, jumping up and down and imploring me to place my hand on this blazingly brilliant swath of cloth. 

I take the hanger off the rack and claim the sunset skirt, not with the intention of drawing attention to myself but to avoid hiding. Though, not only to avoid hiding. To step into the fullness of who my intuition knows I Am.

I settle into the last row again, and all is well.

Patrick, our kumu, welcomes us, and I am enchanted by his energy. The spirit of aloha just oozes out of this guy. I can’t help but smile as he speaks. He’s the real deal.

Patrick leads us through some basic steps, and as I feel my skirt swish with the movement of my hips I am even more grateful for my decision.

Drums sound beneath the cadence of Hawaiian commands, and I melt more fluidly into the choreography.

I feel a rising heat and a strengthening in my legs.

Between each sequence of movements we shift en masse, with the first row parting in the middle and moving to the back row while the remaining rows move forward toward Patrick on the stage.

He encourages us with loving humor and points out important details of each step.

“Feel the ‘āina, the earth, underneath you. Press your entire foot into the earth.”

“Move your hips but not your shoulders.”

“Repeat after me. ‘I luna.’ To come up. ‘I lalo.’ To come down.”

Huli! Turn!”

As the class comes to a close, Patrick invites us to gather around him, and he leads us through several rounds of chants.

The dance instruction and the kindness of the more senior dance volunteers are already plenty for me to process and receive. 

We get to chant and sing too! 

The newest brothers and sisters of this halau, we soar together in song as One. This is almost too much. I close my eyes and allow myself to fully embody this moment, to feel gratitude for this opportunity.

Moving and singing with these people tonight underscores the importance of hula in my life and the timing in which it has come. I wasn’t ready for hula 15 years ago, when my search for a hula school first began. I now understand that my heart simply wasn’t open enough to give and receive to this depth. I am beginning to see and feel how this part of my journey informs all the other parts and how the other parts inform it in return.