“Hula is life.” My kumu taught me this, and her kumu taught it to her. I will admit that I never knew what this meant in my beginning years as a dancer. It never made sense to me until someone tapped me on the shoulder one day and asked “Are you a hula dancer?” I replied yes and asked how she knew this. “I can tell,” she said. “When you move your hands and speak, even the way you look at people, you do it with the grace of a hula dancer.”

On any other occasion, this would not have been a conversation I would have remembered. People ask me all the time if I dance hula. What made this situation different was that I wasn’t at a hula event and there was no evidence on or around me that indicated I dance hula. I was merely standing in line at a grocery store wearing a simple pair of capris pants and a shirt that said “Calvin Klein.” I was buying milk and bread, and the only person I had spoken to was the cashier when she took my money. And as I grabbed my groceries from the counter, I feel a little tap on my shoulder: “Are you a hula dancer?”

After this day at the grocery store, these three simple words “Hula is life” took on a whole new meaning for me. That some stranger in a grocery store could identify me as a hula dancer simply by observing me from a short distance is the strangest yet most intriguing compliment I had ever received. She didn’t identify me as dancer because I performed a spectacular dance or donned a flowing satin hula gown. It was simply because there was a bit of hula element in what I did. While conducting the mundane task of grocery shopping, I did so, in the words of this customer: With the grace of a hula dancer.

As I reflect on this past year, I can’t help ruminating over this event at the grocery store. It opened my eyes to how powerful hula can be in a person’s life. How hula can, when you let it, put grace and elegance into your life where you least expect it. And it became the motivating force behind the creation of Halau ‘O Kaululaua‘e. This simple and significant hula perspective given to me by my kumu to pass on to my students is a reminder that hula is more than hand motions and foot rhythms. It’s more than mere entertainment and fancy costumes. It’s about how we choose to live our lives and communicate with the rest of the world. It’s a creed, so to speak, that our commitment to hula is a commitment to life. From the first day we plant our feet into the rich soil of hula, grace and elegance embeds itself in us moving not just our bodies but our lives as well. And just as the horizon changes when the sun hits it. Hula illuminates our lives and gives us reason to dance in everything we do, even as we do something as simple as shop at the grocery store.

Kumu Miki‘ala Kanekoa