Hula dancing has long been associated with the island of Hawaii. All different forms of Hula dancing are based on only six traditional movements with a wide variety of different interpretations to create unique performances.
In ancient history the Hula dance was performed as a ritual for Pele, the volcano goddess but the goddess Laka was the keeper of the dance and the one most often associated with modern Hula dancing.
Originally the dance was performed by women accompanied by poetic chants from the men called Mele that describes the story of Pele and Hi’aka.
During performances both men and women wear knee length skirts made from palm leaves with flower leis around their heads, arms and legs. Prior to 1820 the skirts of the women were very short until missionaries insisted on making them wear attire that was less revealing. In ancient times Hula dance costumes for women were made of cloth and men’s costumes were loin cloths. After the rituals the leis were placed on an altar as an offering to the goddess Laka.
Hula dancing is more than just a ritual dance as it incorporates smooth, flowing bodily movements and gestures which are believed to tell historical stories and to represent movements in nature – like the wind blowing in the trees or fish in the ocean. It was a way for the Hawaiians to keep record of their history, much of which was lost after the dance was banned in 1820 by Christian missionaries from New York City who viewed the ritual dance as pagan, vulgar and sinful. When Queen Ka’ahumanu was converted to Christianity she had the goddess images and temples destoyed and banned the ritual dance.
For a while the Hula was performed in secret until it was re-established by King Kamehameaha III in 1830 when he granted Hawaii religious freedom. King David Kalakaua, who reigned from 1874 – 1891, encouraged the performance of the Hula dance and even added new dance moves, songs and costumes to the repertoire. the Hula became part of celebrations and festivals and was often performed in his honor.
During the 20th century, under the influence of Hollywood, the Hula was commercialized and portrayed in a totally different manner accompanied by music from new instruments such as the ukulele and guitar. Today there are two types of Hula: the ancient hula kahiko and the modern hula auana.
Despite modern influence Hula dancing has retained its ancient roots and the movements still symbolize all the contrasts in nature and the gentle swaying movements of the Hula dance remains beautiful to watch and perform.