The History of Hawaiian Hula Dancing

It’s common to see hula dancing in movies, TV shows, and at tropical-themed parties, but the history of Hawaiian hula dancing dates back many centuries. Hula is a form of narrative dance that tells the story of the Hawaiian Islands, their culture, gods, and foundation myths, all set to a variety of different music, sometimes with ancient chants and other times with contemporary music.

The Origins of the Hula

The exact origins of the hula are largely unknown as no physical records exist of its creation. The only stories we have to go on are the myths passed down from one generation to another via oral recitation. There are several different variations to the story, but one popular telling begins with the fire goddess Pele fleeing her sister Namakaokaha’i, the goddess of the oceans. When Pele finally finds an island where her sister’s waves can’t reach her, she dances in celebration. And thus, the hula was born.

The Essential Movements Involved

The significance of the hula comes from its movements, most notably the movements of the hands. Hand motion is a critical part of hula dancing, with each motion representing an aspect of nature, a concept of belief, or an emotion.

Cultural Significance

As mentioned, hula is a form of narrative dance, retelling the ancient stories and myths of the Hawaiian Islands. For centuries, it was a way of passing on concepts, morals, and ideas to younger generations before the proliferation of physical media and record keeping.

Traditional Attire of Hula Practitioners

While the dress of hula dancers can vary wildly, each adornment is potentially symbolic for different aspects of nature and culture. One mainstay of hula dancing attire is the Hawaiian lei, a flower necklace constructed out of the flowers and seeds of the Hawaiian Islands. The lei holds a special cultural significance of its own and is something that you will typically see at any Hawaiian cultural event.

More Than Casual Handwaving

Many popular interpretations of hula dancing involve the dancers swaying from side to side, but the actual movements and symbolism are far more complex. Dancers can train for years to perfect their form and better understand and honor the history of the hula dance.

Jun 19, 2021

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