Ha‘aha‘a

Yesterday was a good day for all sorts of reasons. Then, to top it off, my hula brother Kalani and I got up and danced at the Bamboo restaurant that evening. Mila (what an amazing man!) played Waikaloa (the lighthouse on Maui, not the Hilton north of Kailua-Kona) and we made plenty people smile. Joan, the owner, called out Hana hou! and teased the roomful of diners now it was their turn. It was so much fun.

So this morning I was feeling pretty good about myself when I arrived at the Hawai‘I Wildlife Sanctuary to dance with my halau. Of course I talked up our Waikaloa moment the night before. Pretty soon after the keiki performed and the wahine danced Mokihana Lullaby, we three kane did what our halau fondly calls the chicken dance. It’s really called Lei Moaulahiwa, written by Kuana Torres. Maybe with our Waimea blue shirts on we had a little kalij going for us. Still, we had our puffed up burlap ruffle cummerbund that we wore when we won first place at the competition in September. Kumu Kaui only had the rehearsal music, not the mele by itself, so we had to dance the whole competition version, the ka‘i, the mele, and the ho‘i. That was fine till we got to the ho‘i. Brother Kealoha walked right off and disappeared behind a wall, leaving Kalani and me to figure out how things were supposed to go. I think we were so stunned at seeing our hula brother disappear like that, we couldn’t even fake it (well, speaking for myself). We danced this way and that way and then we heard ha‘ina! loud and clear coming from Michael our teacher, in the audience, so we pulled it together sort of, and bumbled through the rest (again, speaking for myself).

What I noticed right away when we joined Kealahoa was that he said nothing and acted as if nothing out of the ordinary happened. I looked at Kalani and saw his expression, a kind of half-smile. Acknowledgement and acceptance with one look. Immediately I heard those three words in my mind, Let It Go.

I went over to the wahine where they stood watching Michael and two younger wahine dancing Keali‘i Reichel’s No Luna exquisitely. I slid my iPhone out of my pocket and began videoing their dance, thinking, Wow, maybe I’ll finally get the hang of the second verse. It’s not that I’m striving for perfection, just that I want to perform the dances with heart and soul, to convey the meaning through our movements, and really, to blend in with other dancers so I’m not sticking out like a sore thumb.

Or a sore loser! The thing is that being left there in front of the audience with Kalani was kind of a gift. My hula brothers and sisters are always reminding me, if you make a mistake, keep going! We kept moving but I’m sure the expression on my face showed utter confusion and loss of direction. Did I say gift? Well, here you go! It’s all yours! Your lesson in humility for today! Yeah that. That is actually a truly valuable gift, for which I am grateful. But more than that, acknowledging and accepting that I’m still learning and there is so much room for growth. Just last week, I saw Kumu Keala Ching doing the most sublime ‘uwehe during his dancing of Hi‘ilawi. It was like he took that split second and opened it up to reveal a whole world with that movement.

I’m in such a hurry sometimes I forget there’s whole worlds inside our least movement, our slightest expression. If hula is teaching me anything, it’s that I am my body, I’m not just in it, I am it. I want to live like that. You see great dancers like Kumu Keala moving so gracefully through the world. I saw the same grace with my mentors Jonathan and Moira, who were immersed in theatre. These artists engage fully their lives; they embrace reality so warmly it begins to vibrate and you can see into other worlds.

Hula is life. Theatre is life. I love it. Can you hear that gentle cosmic laughter inside the Hawaiian word for humility, ha‘aha‘a? I can.

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