More than 2,000 miles off the coast of California float the islands that make up the 50thstate: Hawaii. One of the most enduring images of Hawaii is that of colorful hula dancers. Hula is more than just a dance to Hawaiians, though.

No one knows for sure exactly how hula got started. There are many Hawaiian legends that hold that a god or goddess, such as Laka or Pele, invented the dance. With origins among the Hawaiian gods, it’s no wonder that Hawaiians consider hula a sacred dance.

Hula is an interpretive form of dance that has been practiced for centuries in Hawaii. Legend aside, hula was probably developed by the Polynesians, the people who originally settled the Hawaiian Islands.

Hula consists of dancing accompanied by either chanting (called oli) or a song (called mele). Hula dramatizes and interprets the words of the oli or mele and gives them meaning in a visual form via movement.

Ancient hula — known as Hula Kahiko — was performed by dancers as a sacred ritual with chants and traditional percussion instruments. The oli and mele told stories of legends, history, nature and devotion to the goddesses Pele and Laka.

Over time, hula became a part of popular culture and sparked interest beyond Hawaii. Under the influence of Western culture, a new form of hula — called Hula ‘Auana — developed, using songs and more modern instruments, such as guitars and ukuleles.

People who have never seen hula dancing might not understand how complicated an art form it really is. Hula dance moves vary from simple to complex steps, including the Kaholo, Ka’o, Hela, ‘Uwehe and Ami.

The most basic hula dance moves include swaying of the hips and sidestepping (called “vamping”). A complete hula dance can be quite a workout. Some dancers compare hula to an athletic performance!

Hula also involves many different hand motions. The hand motions made during hula represent the words in the oli or mele. For example, hula dancers use their hands to communicate words or ideas, such as a coconut tree swaying or waves rolling on the ocean.

Female hula dancers usually wear skirts and colorful shirts, while male dancers typically wear pants or a loincloth. Dancers often also wear leis, as well as wrist and ankle bracelets.

Hula can be done while sitting (called noho dance) or standing (called luna dance). Some hulas involve both noho and luna dances.

If you live in Hawaii and want to learn hula, you can learn hula in school or groups called hālau. The hula teacher is called the kumu hula. Kumu means source of knowledge or teacher, so the kumu hula is the teacher of hula!

 

18 Join the Discussion

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  1. Love – love – love! A wonderful reminder of my island home. It’s been quite a while, but I was a hula dancer back-in-the-day. Graceful, beautiful, powerful, and moving – so unique to the culture of Hawaii. Thanks for sharing!

    • We bet you are a GREAT hula dancer, Some Person! Thank you for visiting this Wonder of the Day® and for letting us know how much you liked it!

    • Hello, Shay Haas! We know you could learn to be a GREAT hula dancer! It takes practice, practice, practice! We think you will be awesome at anything you try! :-)

    • We hope YOU have a GREAT day, too, Gracie! Thanks so much for stopping by this Wonder and letting us know what you thought about it! :-)

  2. The video won’t play, like it’s literally frozen- and I’m at home, not school. So, there’s no blocks…
    You may want to fix that. But I love Hawaii, and hula dancing/dancers! Please do more wonders about Hawaii!! :)

    • Oh no, Wonder Friend R! That’s no good! We’re sorry that your Wonder video isn’t working properly. We hope that refreshing the page and trying another browser (like Internet Explorer or Google Chrome) will clear up any issues! We are glad you’re WONDERing about Hawaii with us, Wonder Friend! :)

    • How impressive, Chlo Chlo! Although your mom can’t hula hoop, we bet there are many awesome things your mom can do! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How do you hula?
  • Who invented hula dancing?
  • What are oli and mele?

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Try It Out

Ready to hula? Get your dancing hips ready and do it! Grab some friends or family members to join you. The more people you recruit, the more fun you’ll have.

The best way to learn to hula is from a Hawaiian dancer. If you can’t make it to Hawaii, though, the next best thing is a good video tutorial.

Here are a couple of sites with good videos that will show you how to hula in no time:

If you want to make your hula even more authentic, make your own homemade lei to wear!

 

Still Wondering

Explore ArtsEdge’s Island Breezes: Exploring Hula Dance lesson to learn even more about the tradition and history of this tropical dance!

 

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