Like most Hawaiians growing up in the islands, Patrick Makuak-ane was introduced to hula at a young age. In high school he realized it would be part of his life forever. “This is what I was meant to do,” he says. “Hula is my life. It is the key that opened the doors to my Hawaiian identity, connecting me to my heritage.” Attending college in San Francisco, Makuak-ane fell in love with the City by the Bay and ultimately chose it as the home base for his 40-member dance company and school, N-a Lei Hulu I Ka W-ekiu.
In 1985 he began teaching hula to a handful of friends in a small dance studio owned by Joffrey Ballet co-founder Gerald Arpino. Today Makuak-ane’s h-alau (school), with over 300 students, fills the auditorium of the local elementary school where classes are held. Most evenings, and all day Sunday, you can hear the dulcet strains of ukulele, mele (song), oli (chanting) and laughter permeating Makuak-ane’s Potrero Hill neighborhood. Not a traditional school or dance company in Western terms, a h-alau is an extended family, a catalyst for community.
Students—adult men and women from college age to retired grandparents, Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian—come from all over the Bay Area, united in their love of the islands. Some are missing home; many are drawn to Makuak-ane’s loving persona.
“Hula is about inclusiveness, the shared power of aloha,” Makuak-ane says. “There is something magical about a group of people moving together in an authentic cultural expression, regardless of age or body type.”
Makuak-ane has developed his own trademark style called hula mua (“hula that evolves”), which blends traditional movements with non-Hawaiian music—everything from opera to pop. He says, “You have to start with tradition and then move forward.”
Every few years he assembles a new class and begins the journey of passing on chants, songs and dances—both ‘auana (modern) and kahiko (ancient)—he learned from his teachers, the hula masters John Keola Lake, Robert Cazimero and Mae Kam-amalu Klein. Hula is tied to Hawaiian language, and Makuak-ane is committed to incorporating it and Hawaiian history into all his lessons. On occasion, a student may be selected to join his dance company, which has toured nationally from Honolulu to New York City and appears in an annual show in San Francisco.
Makuak-ane’s 2010 production, 25 Years of Hula, A special anniversary performance, runs October 16–17, 22–24, at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre. It presents a mix of traditional dances and hula mua favorites like “The Flower Duet” from the opera Lakmé, the disco-inspired Hula’s Bar and Lei Stand and one of his more political works, Salva Mea, about the arrival of the missionaries and overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. He is also creating a new suite of dances inspired by the Kumulipo, a sacred Hawaiian creation chant.
Makuak-ane says, “The best thing about teaching is that I get to dance with my haumana [students], no pressure, just aloha and engagement with one another. I look forward to what the next 25 years hold!”
For more, see: www.naleihulu.org.
Rachel Berman is a native Hawaiian who has danced with Paul Taylor Dance Company, Ballet Hispanico and American Repertory Dance Company, among others. She’s currently company manager at Company C Contemporary Ballet in California.
Photo: Patrick Makuak¯ane and Kahala Bishaw (by Julie Mau, courtesy of Patrick Makuak-ane)