Magazine article Sunset

Art of the Hula

Magazine article Sunset

Art of the Hula

Article excerpt

To understand this classic Hawaiian dance, watch the feet and hands

An old saying about hula claims "the hands tell the story." But graceful fingers tell only part of the tale, according to kumu hula (dance master) Manu Boyd.

"The hands are important, but the words of the mete [chant] tell the real story," says Boyd. "Traditional hula is very verbal. We tell stories when we dance."

Hula, as old as the Hawaiian culture, was once shared by all of the people. They danced to mele that expounded on every aspect of lifewarfare, death, birth, sex, even surfing. But contact with the Western world changed hula. Considered lewd by American missionaries who arrived in Hawaii in 1820, hula nearly vanished in 1896, when the Hawaiian language was abolished from local schools.

The dance survived, however, and, thanks to Hollywood and a budding tourist industry, became the enduring emblem of the Islands during the 1920s and '30s. The more traditional forms have resurged since the late 1960s, when native Hawaiians began rediscovering their historical culture. …

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