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.
The internal structure of hālau hula can vary quite a bit, generally these are led by a kumu hula, whose position is roughly equivalent to that of a headmaster. 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 is responsible for instructing students in proper care of their physical well-being by teaching good exercise, dietary, and hygienic practices.
The poʻo puaʻa, or head student, is often the kumu's protégé, and under the direction of the kumu oversees the protocol and rituals of the hālau.
The ʻalakaʻi or "guides" act as teaching assistants, with the more advanced effectively being student teachers. ʻAlakaʻi often will assist less experienced haumana with their lessons, and coach them with the more difficult steps and moves.
Kokua or helpers assist in a variety of areas, from lei making, to helping other haumana dress, making phone calls, fund raising, and helping ʻalakaʻi coach less experienced students.
Haumana, the students, range in age from toddlers to senior citizens.
Prior to European contact, the Hawaiian language had no word for "school", as the concept of a specialized place of instruction did not exist in Hawai`i prior to the arrival of Christian missionaries. Education came from parents, aunts, uncles, and elders, while children who showed promise in a specialized art or craft would be apprenticed to a master and work in the latter's hālau.
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. Halau hula training was strict, with haumana put on kapu or forbidden rules of conduct which banned the cutting of hair and the practicing of any kind of sexual activity.
Today, students have set hours for study at the hālau, and often pay monthly dues to help the kumu with support and maintenance. Present-day halau hula each have their own set of rules for their haumana, with many still enforcing the ancient kapu of cutting one's hair. Each year, the Merrie Monarch Festival is held in Hilo, where the distinctive style of each hālau can be seen.
Four basic steps are commonly used in all halau hula, and 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.
- 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.
- Hela – 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.
- ʻUehe – this is done by lifting and setting back one foot then elevating both heels and pushing the knees forward rapidly. Depending on the style of ʻuehe, the knees may move straight forward or at angles of up to 45 degrees from the center line. The lifted foot alternates.
- Ami – requires the dancer to rotate his or her hips in an elliptical motion while keeping both feet firmly planted on the ground.
Notable halau hula
- Halau Hula Olana, Kumu Hula Howard and Olana Ai (Pearl City)
- Hālau Kekuaokalāʻauʻalaʻiliahi, Kumu Hula Iliahi and Haunani Paredes (Maui)
- Halau Mohala ʻIlima, Kumu Hula Mapuana de Silva (Kaʻohao, Kailua)
- Hālau Nā Lei Kaumaka O Uka, Kumu Hula Napua Greig (Maui)
- Halau Na Mamo O Puʻuanahulu, Kumu Hula Sonny Ching (Honolulu)
- Hula Halau ʻO Kamuela, Kumu Hula Kunewa Mook and Kaui Kamanaʻo (Kalihi/Waimanalo)
- Na Lei ʻO Kaholoku, Kumu Hula Nani Lim Yap and Leialoha Amina (Kohala)
In the mainland United States
- Academy of Hawaiian Arts, Kumu Hula Mark Kealiʻi Hoʻomalu (Oakland, CA)
- Halau Hula a Kawika laua ʻO Leinani, Kumu Hula Kawika Viloria and Leinani Viloria (Los Angeles, CA)
- Halau Hula Moaniʻaʻala Anuhea, Kumu Hula Christina Nani Aiu-Quezada (Monterey Park, CA)
- Halau Na Meakanu O Laka O Hawaiʻi, Kumu Hula Rolanda Mohala Valentin Reese (Los Angeles, CA)
- Hålau Nå Mamo O Panaʻewa, Kumu Hula Keoki Wang (Los Angeles, CA)
- Halau Hula Na Pua O Ka Laʻakea, Kumu Hula Shawna Alapaʻi (San Rafael, CA)
- Hālau Hula O Malulani, Kumu Hula Kapena Malulani Perez (San Diego, CA)
- Halau Oʻ Makani Kai Polynesian Dance Troupe (San Diego, CA)
- Hula Halau O Lilinoʻe, Kumu Hula Sissy Kaio (Carson, CA)
- Kealiʻi ʻO Nalani, Kumu Hula Kealiʻi Ceballos (Los Angeles)
- Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu, Kumu Hula Patrick Makuakane (San Francisco, CA)