The Story of Hula: From Forbidden Dance to Hawaii's Heartbeat


Hawaiian Culture - Hula

No trip to Hawaii is complete without hula. One of Hawaii's most popular forms of entertainment, hula is much more than just a dance; it is integral to Hawaii’s culture. From hula once being banned to how you can try it yourself, let's dive into this intricate, deeply rooted form of Polynesian movement.

Beyond Grass Skirts and Leis

You're destined to see a hula performance when you stay in Hawaii. It can be found everywhere from festivals to beaches, and this soulful, melodic entertainment is one of the highlights of a Hawaiian vacation. 

A hula is much more than a dance—it's a deep form of storytelling that uses mind, body and soul that's become the heartbeat of Hawaii. Alongside song and chant, the movements being articulated are intended to emphasize a certain message, with the swaying movements representing everything from a tree moving in a breeze to a feeling of yearning. This beautiful expression can either be performed in a sitting position (noho dance) or standing position (luna dance), and you're likely to see a combination of both when watching a Hawaiian performance.

The History of Hula

It isn't clear when hula was breathed into existence. That may be a secret that time and nature keep to themselves.  It's possible that hula had been a part of Polynesian culture for centuries before it was witnessed by anyone outside of the culture. We do know that the first Westerners to visit Hawaii were mesmerized by the beauty of hula, including British explorer Captain James Cook and his crew members who witnessed hula being performed by men and women on the island of Kauai in 1778.

One thing that is clear: most Hawaiians see hula as an art form that was gifted to them by the gods. The most widely accepted origin theory in Hawaiian legend is that the goddess Laka gave birth to hula in a sacred place called Kaʻana on the island of Molokaʻi.

A Forbidden Dance

It can be hard to imagine a time when such a joyful, enriching form of expression would be considered controversial. However, hula was banned in Hawaii at the order of Queen Ka'ahumanu for a period spanning from 1830 to 1883.

The ban came after a growing population of Christian Hawaiians feared that the art form was rooted in pagan origins. 

King Kalakaua publicly reinstated hula in 1883, but hula went "underground" again with the fall of the Hawaiian monarchy in the late 1890s. Fortunately, this beautiful art form never left the homes and hearts of the Hawaiian people.

Today, hula remains an enduring part of Hawaiian culture. 

Bringing the Hula Spirit Home

Hawaii's skilled hula dancers learn the art form from a Kumu hula (source of knowledge) at special schools called hālaus. While hula may look like a carefree, freestyle art form, these students follow a very disciplined path. Luckily, Hawaii's hula masters are happy to share their expertise and passion with visitors to the islands. 

You can learn the art of authentic hula yourself through lessons at resort destinations like the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort and Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort. Here you can also try other Hawaiian cultural activities like making a kukui nut bracelet or taking a ukelele lesson that let you explore the island's unique culture. From these enriching experiences to learning how to dance hula yourself, you'll feel like bringing a little bit of Hawaii's spirit home. 

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