News: Evolving Hula

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:


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)

Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

Keep reading... Show less
Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Teaching Tips
Getty Images

After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.