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Hawaii's famous form of dance that portrays words in visual form.

• General: Educational • General: Guide • General: History • General: Kid Friendly

Hula is a form of visual dancing where the hula dancer portrays their words in the form of movements. There are actually two main types of hula which are known as Hula 'Auana and Hula Kahiko.

Hula Kahiko is an ancient form of hula that was performed before Hawaiians had contact with westerners. This type of hula is more vocal with chanting (oli in Hawaiian) or mele (singing in Hawaiian) and often with traditional instruments. The chants were memorized and passed down through generations as a way of remembering and retelling their history.

The more modern style of hula is called Hula 'Auana and is the result of some more modern, western influences from the 19th and 20th centuries. The word auana means to "wander" or "drift" and if you've ever seen a modern hula dance you can see why as the dancer moves very fluidly. This type of hula is often accompanied by music from a guitar or ukulele.

Hula dancing also has two main positions. The first is the sitting dance known as noho. The second is the standing dance known as luna. Some hula dances actually use both types in them.

A hula school or group is known as a halau and the teacher is the kumu hula. The word kumu means teacher or source of knowledge. Below the teacher is the alaka'i or leader, then the kokua or helpers, and then the 'olapa (dancers) or haumana (students).

The exact origins of hula are surrounded in Hawaiian mythology. It's said that Laka - The Goddess Of Hula gave birth to the dance on Molokai island. Other stories suggest that it was Ha'ika, the sister of Pele - The Volcano Goddess, danced to keep her fiery sister calm and happy. Yet another story says that Pele was running away from here Namakaokaha'i (ocean goddess) and when she found her home on the Big Island she did a victory dance that became the hula.

As is typical of all religion, some American Protestant missionaries dropped onto the Hawaii scene in 1820 and decided the hula was a heathen dance and did their best to squash it. Even the new Christianized ali'i agreed to ban hula, though plenty still privately attended hula dances.

By the 1850s hula was fully regulated and had its own licensing system. During the 1874 to 1891 reign of King David Kalakaua (see King David Kalakaua Statue), hula saw a big resurgence. Even Princess Lili'uokalani was helping bring the hula back into popularity and saw it as an important step in reviving the ancient Hawaiian culture that religion worked so hard to kill off.

To the average tourist who's had several mai tais at a luau, the hula often looks like a very simple dance. But it's actually an incredibly complex form of dance and storytelling. Various movements of the hands and arms can tell very detailed and long stories or convey emotions. Hip and leg movements are usually slightly less complicated but still have several basic moves every hula dancer has to master. So complex is this art form that there is even an annual hula competition called the Merrie Monarch Festival.

In ancient times, the hula was often used as a way parise ali'i (chiefs) and performed either for their own entertainment or in their honor. Even today, many hula dances are thought of as a religious ceremony as the dancers honor a Hawaiian god or goddess.

The outfits that traditional female dancers wore was called a pa'u which was a sort of skirt. But that's all they wore, meaning, they were topless. No coconut shell bras even. Today, things are a bit different and more family friendly I suppose. Of course, the coconut bra is generally only found at luaus. In more serious hulas the dancers can have some pretty elaborate costumes. As for the guys, it was all loincloths back in the day, which really hasn't changed much today.