The history of Hawaiian hula dance
The Hula dance is associated with Hawaii and luaus and while everyone knows what the hula is very few people are actually knowledgeable of its origin, not even the Hawaiians. According to Hawaiian history there is no information available as to who performed the first hula dance or why, however it is a common agreement that the original hula dance was performed by a god or goddess, making the dance sacred to Hawaiians. And this dance is sacred to men and women in Hawaii because the hula was danced by both sexes despite some information stating only men danced the hula. This information is incorrect and actually men and women both were involved in the sacred hula dance.
There are many types of Polynesian dances; however the hula is one of a kind and completely different than other dances in this area of the world. The origination of the hula was used for rituals and ceremonies, however this changed over time and eventually the hula was a dance used strictly for entertainment.
When dancing the hula individuals truly must become one with the dance and the actions, objects, or images they are imitating in their hula dance. The hula is a very meaningful dance and every movement of the body represents something. In addition to this, the hands are very important in the hula dance as well. When the individual is dancing the hula they may be imitating a palm tree, war, plants, and even animals. Because of this when the individual is dancing they are transforming themselves mentally into the object they are portraying through dance. Basically, the hula dancer is telling a story through the movements of the body and hands and as a result it is very important to watch. Chants also accompany the hula dance and while they used to be the most important part of the dance to portray what was happening they are no longer so and the movements are most important. You will notice the difference if you see a portrayal of old style hula dancing compared to new style hula dancing. While both are still hula dancing and fun to watch, the first is more ritualistic and the second more entertaining.
The hula dancers wear a costume in order to perform the hula dance. This consists of leis made of flowers around the neck or even the shoulders. A grass skirt is also used and is made of tapa and known as a pau. The dancers also wear anklets made of whale bone or even dog teeth. The whole ensemble makes up the vision of the hula dancer the whole world is aware of.
In the past, when hula was danced as a religious ritual rather than simply for entertainment the rules regarding the hula dance were very strict and individuals involved in hula dancing school were required to follow them while they were learning how to dance. Generally, students were required to follow all rules and behave properly while obeying their hula teacher in all requests. Some of the rules stated that hula students could not cut their fingernails or even their hair. Other rules stated hula students could not engage in sex nor could they eat certain foods that were forbidden. As a result, the life of the hula dancer in hula school was very strict, yet all of the rules were for a purpose that believed the students would learn to dance the hula better if they did not engage in the forbidden activities.
Today there are two types of hula, hula kahiko and hula auana. Hula hahiko is the old style that was described above and generally includes percussion, chanting, and the traditional costumes. Hula kahiko is traditional and ritualistic and the chanting tells the story more than the dance moves. However, for the more entertaining hula auna there is music, guitars, entertaining costumes to enhance the dance, ukuleles and even songs. This type of hula uses body movements and the hands to really tell the story because it is easier for tourists to understand.
While the hula dance has been around for thousands of years and always been popular it almost disappeared in the 1800s when missionaries arrived in Hawaii. The missionaries believed that hula dancing was devilish and against God and tried to convince the dancers of their wrongdoing by dancing the hula. However, King Kalakaua did not want the traditional dance of the islands to disappear simply because the missionaries did not understand what the hula was all about in the first place so he took action.
As a result, King Kalakaua developed his own group of hula dancers and encouraged them to learn the hula dance, the old style hula, and fortunately the hula did not disappear and still remains a very important dance of the islands and even today there are hundreds of hula schools on all the Hawaiian islands that teach the hula dance, old style, to the students. Even today many of the hula schools have strict rules like the old hula schools implemented.
There are even hula schools and groups that teach old style hula dancing to people on the mainland so while hula remains an important part of Hawaiian culture the culture is spreading and many people show an interest in learning how to hula dance.
When you visit Hawaii, no matter what island you visit, you will certainly see plenty of hula dancing from old style to the newer and more entertaining hula and regardless which one you like the most you should definitely attend festivals or dances that exhibit both styles so you can see the performing arts of the island and learn about the culture, history and the people of Hawaii. You never know, you may learn a few hula moves yourself.