If you’ve ever been to Hawaii, chances are you’re familiar with hula dancing. A staple of Hawaiian culture, Hula is a traditional form of music and dancing. This traditional Hawaiian music and dancing style is used to express praise and communicate genealogy and mythology. According to Hawaiian legend, the original hula dance was performed by a god or goddess, making the dance sacred to Hawaiian culture. It has been traditionally danced by both men and women, although today many hula dances performed for tourists include only women.
Hula music has been passed through generations of Hawaiians, preserving their cultural heritage. Today, hula music includes native Hawaiian folk music and even modern styles incorporating hip-hop and rap, as well as steel guitars. These distinctive styles all fall more or less into the “hula” genre. Many hula themes are influenced by the cultures of the nearby Polynesian islands. However, the hula dance is all its own, and is very distinctive when compared to other dances from this area of the world.
The hula dance is often seen at special festivals and other events, including luaus. Although today many hulas are performed for tourists, the actual hula art form goes back hundreds of years. Traditional hula music includes chanting, most of which is influenced by religion. This style of Hawaiian folk music includes simple melodies and rhythms influenced by poetry. Although it originated for rituals and religious ceremonies, today most hula dances are performed strictly for entertainment purposes. If you can see the traditional hula dance and modern hula side-by-side, you will notice a difference.
When learning to dance the hula, it is very important to learn the meanings of the dance moves. Each action and movement of the body has a specific meaning. In the hula dance, the hand placement is very important. Different movements imitate a palm tree, plants, animals, and even war.
While some say that the chants accompanying the hula dance were once the most important part of the dance, today the hula movements themselves are widely recognized to be the part of the dance carrying the most symbolic meaning. The traditional form is called hula kahiko, while the modern type is known as hula auana.
Hula dancers usually wear a specific costume when dancing the hula. This typically consists of a fresh flower lei, of the type you will see frequently on vacations to Hawaii. A grass skirt, known as a pau, is worn with anklets made of bone. This ensemble is quite recognizable the world over; hula dancers can even be found on the dashboards of many cars.
Although the hula dance is very popular today, and has existed for thousands of years, it almost died out when missionaries came to Hawaii in the 1800s. They tried to convince the dancers to stop, because they believed that it clashed with the Christian beliefs they were trying to teach, but King Kalakaua encouraged this traditional dance, helping it to flourish.
If you are visiting Hawaii, one of the unique cultural activities you must experience is the hula dance. Many hula dancers perform at luaus and other ceremonies. While you’re on your vacation, be sure to take the time to learn about the culture, the history, and the people of Hawaii.
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