Trending

Hula Teacher Kaina Quenga Has a Secret to Truly Learning the Sacred Form of Dance

FreeVerse photography, courtesy of Quenga

As a hula instructor at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, Hawaii native Kaina Quenga is committed to sharing the traditional dances and culture of Polynesia with the people of the Big Apple. Through training with famed kuma hula (master teacher) Johnny Lum Ho of Halau O Ka Ua Kani Lehua, Quenga developed a respect for and understanding of the artform that has carried her through the nearly 20 years of her professional career.

In spite of her success as a teacher at 92nd Street Y (she also teaches at Concourse House Day Care in the Bronx and Spoke the Hub Dancing in Brooklyn, and offers free classes in various parks around NYC during the spring and summer), Quenga never anticipated becoming an educator. "I really just lucked into it—I'm not a kuma hula," she says. One can only become an official hula master teacher when their own kuma hula bequeaths knowledge to them through a formal ceremonial ritual after years of training. "But when I came to New York, everyone kept asking me if I would teach classes. There was a need for it. So I started teaching the basics."


She starts her beginner classes by explaining that hula is based in the Hawaiian language. Each dance tells a story, she says, and without words there can be no hula. "The words are more important than the actual dance." A native Hawaiian-language speaker, Quenga is able to translate the words so her students can connect to them on a personal level. "In a hula that I teach, we talk about gathering seaweed down by the sea," she says. "I love that hula, because I love seaweed. One of my students said she didn't like seaweed, so she made her movement match the way she felt. She couldn't have done that if she didn't understand the words. I teach my dancers to connect to the story in the way it relates to them rather than just memorize steps. It makes it so they actually feel something."

Throughout class Quenga prompts her students to turn away from the mirror and focus on basics like ka'o (the way the hips sway in hula). "It's a lateral pelvic shift with a curve," she says. "It's very specific and unique to Hawaiian dance and can only be broken down or learned with a teacher present. You can't learn it from YouTube. There are rituals that are connected to the sacred practice of hula. Hula is a sacred dance form."

Required dancewear for class. "When dancers come to hula classes, they should wear a Pa'u hula skirt that covers their knees. It's part of your hula and changes the entire tone of your learning."

Must-have costume details. "When dancers become more advanced, they're expected to wear leis that cover their body. While most hula dancers create their own costumes, these products can also be found on hula-ohana.com."

Choreography Inspiration. "Hula is inspired by nature, so the dances that I teach acknowledge and celebrate our deep relationship to our environment, our community and our history."

How she stays organized. "I write things down in a notebook and maintain a checklist that I constantly refer to."

Favorite teaching phrase. Ma ka hana ka 'ike (The knowledge is in the doing).

Teachers Trending
Cynthia Oliver in her office. Photo by Natalie Fiol

When it comes to Cynthia Oliver's classes, you always bring your A game. (As her student for the last two and a half years in the MFA program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I feel uniquely equipped to make this statement.) You never skip the reading she assigns; you turn in not your first draft but your third or fourth for her end-of-semester research paper; and you always do the final combination of her technique class full-out, even if you're exhausted.

Oliver's arrival at UIUC 20 years ago jolted new life into the dance department. "It may seem odd to think of this now, but the whole concept of an artist-scholar was new when she first arrived," says Sara Hook, who also joined the UIUC dance faculty in 2000. "You were either a technique teacher or a theory/history teacher. Cynthia's had to very patiently educate all of us about the nature of her work, and I think that has increased our passion for the kind of excavation she brings to her research."

Keep reading... Show less
News
Clockwise from top left: Courtesy Ford Foundation; Christian Peacock; Nathan James, Courtesy Gibson; David Gonsier, courtesy Marshall; Bill Zemanek, courtesy King; Josefina Santos, courtesy Brown; Jayme Thornton; Ian Douglas, courtesy American Realness

Since 1954, the Dance Magazine Awards have celebrated the living legends of our field—from Martha Graham to Misty Copeland to Alvin Ailey to Gene Kelly.

This year is no different. But for the first time ever, the Dance Magazine Awards will be presented virtually—which is good news for aspiring dancers (and their teachers!) everywhere. (Plus, there's a special student rate of $25.)

The Dance Magazine Awards aren't just a celebration of the people who shape the dance field—they're a unique educational opportunity and a chance for dancers to see their idols up close.

Keep reading... Show less
Leap! Executive Director Drew Vamosi (Courtesy Leap!)

Since its inaugural season in 2012, Leap! National Dance Competition has been all about the little things.

"I wanted to have a 'boutique' competition. One where we went out to only one city every weekend, so I could be there myself, and we could really get to know the teachers and watch their kids progress from year to year," says Leap! executive director Drew Vamosi. According to Vamosi, thoughtful details make all the difference, especially during a global pandemic that's thrown many dancers' typical comp-season schedules for a loop. That's why Leap! prides itself on features like its professional-quality set design, as well as its one-of-a-kind leaping competition, where dancers can show off their best tricks for special cash and merchandise prizes.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.