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Autumn has begun in force in Oregon, as evidenced by the all-too-familiar chill and rain. But in Hawaii, the weather always feels like summer. Fortunately, Portlanders don’t have to go far to get a taste of the Aloha State.
One of the metro area’s hula schools is putting on a benefit showcasing the Hawaiian art of hula. The school, Ka Lei Hali’a O Ka Lokelani, or “the cherished ones of the yellow rose” in Hawaiian, is an affiliate of the OHANA Foundation, which promotes education in Oregon and Hawaii.
The benefit, the fourth annual E Ala Ē (meaning “rise up”) Hula Exhibition, will feature modern and traditional hula, as well as stories about heroic Hawaiian women.
“What hula comes down to,” says Leialoha Kaula, founder of both the foundation and the school, “is it’s a performance, and it tells the story of our culture, the Hawaiian culture and the Hawaiian history.”
The Hawaiian community in Oregon is strong, Kaula says, and hula schools — called hālaus, help people within it stay connected. Almost a dozen hālaus, from Tigard to Vancouver, Washington, see students weekly. Some of them operate out of private garages.
“We do try to have the family feeling,” says Lisa Chang, owner of Hula Hālau in Beaverton. “I really encourage each of the classes to meet outside of class, create a bond.” In fact, the full name of her hālau — ‘Ohana Holo’oko’a — means “where everyone is family.”
This sense of community and heritage, Kaula says, is why hula is more than just a dance.
“A good hula dancer can perform a song and make you cry,” Kaula says, “and that’s when you know she or he is truly an amazing hula dancer is that moment you see the audience tear up.”
This article features content from Leialoha Kaula’s interview with Oregon Art Beat. She will be featured on Oregon Art Beat on October 17 at 8 p.m.