If there was a Black Belt in Hula or Hula Emmy, Leihi`ilani Kirkpatrick would have it.
For 60 years, Leihi`ilani has danced this ancient art form that enthralls Hawaiian visitors. Leihi`ilani is a professional hula dancer. She has traveled the world, dancing the hula and teaching students of all ages. She had just returned from Singapore, where she taught an international group of women to hula, when she agreed to meet me.
Meeting one of the Island’s most celebrated hula dancers seemed completely out of my realm. My dream of learning to hula started as a child. Like many, the movement of the dancer’s hips and arms, that make this form of dance so exotic, mesmerized me. I had never seen hula in person until Mike and I’s trip to Hawaii. As part of my bucket list, I wanted to learn to hula. So, after searching the web, I found Leihi`ilani.
We met at the Lyndgate State Park in Lihue, on the island of Kauai. I was nervous and worried that Leihi`ilani would think I was the most uncoordinated student ever. I have no rhythm. This coupled with my lack of flexibility made me wonder if I my hula technique would like a chicken trying to two-step.
At age 64, Leihi`ilani has a timeless elegance about her. When she got out of her car and we greeted one another, I felt at ease. She emulated a humble confidence and peaceful spirit. To get started we sat on some mats she brought with her laid carefully on the sand. She presented me with a homemade lei made by her granddaughter. I felt more like a close family friend, than a stranger.
She began to tell me her story, the story the islands as told through the gentle sway of hula.
“Hula is our library books,” she shared. “We didn’t have a written language. It was through hula that we told our stories.”
According to Leihi`ilani, in the early 1900s, there was a revival of Polynesian culture as tourism flourished in Hawaii. This included the establishment of Hula schools. Leihi`ilani was talented enough that she was sent to one of these special hula school.
“Hula entertains, heals, and is a wonderful way to express the hearts of Hawaiians. It also has many physical benefits including strength, balance and coordination. Most of all you learn discipline in hula. When I went to school it was very strict, but also loving. Hula was part of my family. My mother danced as well as many of my relatives,” Leihi`ilani explained.
Once, we discussed the history and the true meaning of hula, we began our lesson. Leihi`ilani had a simple dance for me to learn.
While hula looks uncontrolled at times, it is a meticulous way of dance.
- Posture is number one and bending the knees. Leihi`ilani taught me that bending the knees is what gives the hips the flow hula is famous for. Your shoulders should be aligned with your hips.
- Now for the arms. Arm movements should be even with your chest bones. No hip hop arms! Don’t shimmy your shoulders. They should be relaxed.
- Legs should be bent and flow with the movement of the hips. Point your toes.
- If you want a brief lesson, check out this short tutorial featuring Leihi`ilani. http://hawaiianhulatutorial.com/hawaiian-hula-tutorial-part-1/
For a girl from eastern Idaho, learning the hula seemed like something I would never get to do. Not only did I learn the basics, I met one of the best hula teachers in the world. I checked off a bucket list goal. But it wasn’t just the hula, I learned from Leihi`ilani. After meeting her, I wanted to be the type of person people meet and feel peace. Talking to Leihi`ilani, she exudes love and goodwill. She explained that people gain balance, strength, and coordination. But most importantly, hula has a spiritual element to it – as you become more in tune with your body, the ancient stories, and the peace you feel from expression. She left me with a Hawaiian kiss or honi, an ancient tradition where friends touch foreheads. I left her a better person and a little more coordinated.
You can learn more about Leihi`ilani from this documentary: http://hawaiianhulatutorial.com/hula-teachers/.
Better yet, go to Kauai and take a lesson or catch up with her wherever in the world you may be, as she travels the globe. https://halaukaleikukuihiilani.wordpress.com/