Music for Class: Poetry in Motion
Hokulani Holt-Padilla has dedicated her life to teaching and supporting Hawaiian culture, especially its primary dance form, hula. She founded Pa ‘U O Hi’iaka, a hâlau (or hula school) on the island of Maui, in 1976 and was crucial in the planning of the World Hula Conference. Currently, Holt-Padilla is the cultural programs director at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center, and her dance troupe has won numerous awards. In December, she was honored with a Ford Foundation Fellowship for Dance.
Holt-Padilla teaches both the traditional hula dance form, kahiko, set to chants and traditional instruments, and the contemporary or auana form, accompanied by song and Western instruments. “My real attachment is for the traditional version,” she says. “Many kumu hula (or hula teachers) view kahiko as the foundation of a dancer’s experience. A student must do that well before moving on.”
For most traditional classes, hula teachers act as accompanists, playing and chanting along with their students. For contemporary combinations, however, Holt-Padilla turns to recorded music. She has found a select group of artists who demonstrate the evolution of Hawaiian music, mixing the old and the new.
“Hula cannot exist without poetry,” she says. “We do not dance by music or drumbeats alone. We must have words. For those who understand Hawaiian, it is the poetry that leads us to the song we select.” With Holt-Padilla’s choices, even teachers far from Hawaii’s beaches can introduce hula to their students. DT
Album/Songs: E O Mai, “Ka Opihi O Kanapou” and “Pua Hinano”
“Keali’i Reichel records music specifically for hula dancers. This means that he stays within the 4/4 count, there are few instrumental interludes and the poetry is beautiful. Keali’i’s songs are also wonderful because he understands Hawaiian, so we know he’s enjoying the poetry just as much as we are.”
Album/Song: Cool Elevation, “Ke ’Ala O Ka Rose”
“‘Ke ’Ala O Ka Rose’ is a classic love song about someone who is being wooed and compared to a rose. For female hula dancers, it’s always nice to have songs about flowers and sweet-smelling things, because hula expresses these words through dance. The students exhibit the rain and the blossoms and the ocean and feelings of affection with their dancing.”
Album/Song: Pihana, “Blue Lei”
“The song ‘Blue Lei’ comes from the 1920s and ’30s, an era of English language in Hawaiian music because the Hawaiian language was banned. Since the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970s, we can learn, speak and compose in Hawaiian once again, which is great. But we also enjoy English music as a part of our history.”
Album/Song: ’E, “Ke Aloha”
“‘Ke Aloha’ is a classic contemporary hula song that many hula dancers know. Natalie Ai Kamauu does a beautiful rendition, musically as well as rhythmically. It really inspires students to dance well when they hear beautiful music like this.”
Album/Song: He Aloha…, “Awapuhi Puakea”
“Cody Pueo Pata is a new artist, and he is also a hula teacher, so the music that he produces has all the things that teachers want. His songs are 4/4 and have beautiful melodies and poetry. ‘Awapuhi Puakea’ is about comparing someone you love to a ginger blossom.”
Holt-Padilla describes her remounting of Kahekili: Maui’s Paramount Chief, a National Endowment for the Arts/American Masterpiece Dance production here.
Photo courtesy Hokulani Holt-Padilla