A hālau hula is a school in which the ancient Hawaiian dance form called hula is taught. The term comes from hālau, a workshed, and hula, the traditional dance of the Hawaiian Islands. Prior to European contact, the Hawaiian language had no word for "school," as children learned from their parents, aunts, uncles, and elders. Children who showed promise in a specialized art or craft would be apprenticed to a master and work in the master's hālau. School, as a specialized place of instruction, did not exist in Hawai`i prior to the arrival of Christian missionaries.
In ancient times, students joining a hālau hula would be dedicated solely to the study of hula for the duration of their training. Their families would provide maintenance for the support of the hālau. Today, students have set hours for study at the hālau, and often pay monthly dues to help the kumu, roughly "headmaster" of the hālau with support and maintenance.
There is great variation between hālau. Some focus primarily on ancient styles of hula, others on modern styles, and some study both. Some hālau continue to preserve very strict kapu, sacred protocols, while others are noa, or free of kapu. The styles of hula taught in different hālau also can vary greatly. Styles are passed down from kumu to haumana, and knowledgeable students of hula can tell which hula lineage is represented by watching the dancer's presentation.
Location of hālau also can vary widely, from the garage of the kumu's home to community centers to the lawns of parks, hālau hula can be found dancing wherever there is space and interested students.
Internal Structure of Hālau Hula
Internal structure of hālau also can vary quite a bit, but in general a hālau hula is led by a kumu hula. The position is roughly equivalent to that of headmaster of a private school. The kumu is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the style and traditions handed down by the kumu's own kumu. The kumu is responsible for the spiritual integrity of the hālau, and the kumu is responsible to instruct the students to properly care for their own physical well being by teaching good exercise, dietary, and hygienic practices through instruction and example.
The po`o pua`a, or head student, is often the kumu's protégé, and under the direction of the kumu oversees the protocols and rituals of the hālau.
The `alaka`i, "guides," act as teaching assistants. The more advanced `alaka`i are effectively student teachers. `Alaka`i often will assist less experienced haumana with their lessons, and coach them with the more difficult steps and moves.
Kokua, helpers, assist in a variety of areas, from lei making, to helping other haumana dress, to making the phone calls, doing fund raising, and helping the `alaka`i to coach less experienced students.
Haumana, the students, range in age from toddlers to senior citizens.
In ancient times, halau hula training was strict. Haumana were put on kapu or forbidden rules of conduct which banned the cutting of hair and the practicing of any kind of sexual activity. Presently halau hula each have their own set of rules for their haumana. Many halau hula today still enforce the ancient kapu of cutting one's hair.
Four basic steps are commonly used in all halau hula. The kaholo, or travel step usually consists of four beats. This step is probably one of the most common, especially for beginning students of hula, when a mele or song is danced. The kaholo is often the dance step used during the "vamp," musical measures between the verses of songs.
The hela is a step occupying a one beat count and requires one to point out one foot at a time in front of one's body. The foot slides forward just above, and parallel to, the ground in a graceful point.
The `uehe is done by lifting and setting back one foot then elevating both heels and pushing the knees forward rapidly. Depending on the style of `uehe, the knees may move straight forward or at angles of up to 45 degrees from the center line. The lifted foot alternates.
The ami requires the dancer to rotate his or her hips in an elliptical motion while keeping both feet firmly planted on the ground.
Each of the steps has many variants.
All of the basic steps in hula require the shoulders to remain steady and both knees to be in a bent position at all times.
Notable halau hula
- Halau Na Mamo O Pu'uanahulu, Kumu Hula Sonny Ching (Honolulu)
- Halau Na Meakanu O Laka O Hawai'i, Kumu Rolanda Mohala Valentin Reese (Los Angeles, CA) http://www.halaunameakanu.com, http://www.kpac4m.com
- Halau Hula Olana, Kumu Hula Howard and Olana Ai (Pearl City, Hawaii)
- Hula Halau 'O Kamuela, Kumu Hula Kaui Kamana'o (Kalihi/Waimanalo, Hawaii)
- Na Lei 'O Kaholoku, Kumu Hula Nani Lim Yap and Leialoha Amina (Kohala, Hawaii)
- Halau Hula Moani'a'ala Anuhea, Kumu Hula Christina Nani Aiu-Quezada (Monterey Park, CA)
- Halau Mohala 'Ilima, Kumu Hula Mapuana de Silva (Ka'ohao, Kailua, Hawaii)
- Halau Hula a Kawika laua 'o Leinani, Kumu Hula Kawika Viloria and Leinani Viloria (Los Angeles)
- Keali'i 'O Nalani, Kumu Hula Keali'i Ceballos (Los Angeles)
- Aloha 'Aina, Kumu Hula Verena Kainz (Salzburg, Austria)
- Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu, Kumu Patrick Makuakane (San Francisco, CA)
- Halau Hula Na Pua O Ka La'akea, Kumu Shawna Alapa’i (San Rafael, CA)