At 5 I catch the bus to my first hula lesson where I will drop in on what looks to be the adult class. After my first encounter with a halau I am prepared when the address leads me to someone’s house. A woman with a couple teeth missing, holding her baby, answers the door when I knock and tells me that the halau is around the back of the house. I thank her and continue around to the back where there is a glass room. A few parents come into view watching their children from chairs outside the room. The kumu waves at me as I approach and gestures me to watch and wait outside. I watch the children’s class as they practice their basic steps (probably more my level than anything else) and finish up with a hula kahiko that they already know. A little after 5:30 myself and three other women enter the class.
I am the only new student and the kumu introduces me to the rest of the class saying that I am visiting on a grant from my school and that I am here to take hula lessons around Oahu (not exactly right, but I won’t correct her). She says, more than anything else, she wants to give me a sense of what Hawaiians dance about. “It’s not so important to me that you learn particular steps, as it is that you get an understanding of what kind of things are important to us.” The class consists of the group of dancers running pieces that they have already learned. I am able to keep up for the most part in the back line. As they dance the kumu says what the Hawaiian words and movements mean. There is a dance about love smelling like a Hawaiian flower, a dance about honoring your ancestors and several others.
Towards the end of the class she puts on a hula kahiko chant. “This is actually my grandmother chanting,” she says, “she and another woman were recorded by the Bishop Museum. So this dance has been passed along in my family for generations. The dance is about fertility.” She goes on to say that the dance is actually about conception more than anything else, and that, yes, the Hawaiians used to dance about that. “Today we don’t even talk about it with our parents anymore,” she says, “maybe we should.” The women in the class laugh and she begins to teach us. Now I am able to keep up with the others.
The whole number consists of rolling the hips with different arm movements throughout that mean different things. We practice several times with her grandmother’s recorded chant in the background and then it is time to go. I quickly thank kumu, who is quite a bit younger than the kumu I referred to earlier. She looks to be in her late twenties and when she dances she can keep her movement pretty low to the ground which is impressive. I wish I could stay another week to take this class again. Some of the dances might even stick.
I catch my taxi waiting outside and on the ride home I talk to the cab driver about the secret service. He tells me about how he often drives people in the military and government and is sure they’ve done an extensive background check on him for asking too many questions. He drops me off back at the house and gives me his card in case I need a ride anywhere else.