The story behind the dance

When she dances, freshman Lisa Braga is telling a story. In her hula and Tahitian dancing class, she learns the legends and stories behind each dance and movement.

Four years ago, her aunt introduced Braga to a hālau—a hula school—called Hālau Hula a Kawika Lāua ‘o Leinani, where she learned the art of hula and Tahitian dancing.

“Dancing hula or Tahitian is really different from what people are used to because people mostly know that you move your hips for hula and shake really fast for Tahitian. You don’t just move your hips,” Braga said. “There’s also the expression on your face, and your hands and feet. You tell a story.”

Hula dancing is a Polynesian dance that portrays the “oli and mele,” meaning “chant and song,” in a visual form, combined with upbeat acoustic stringed instruments. Tahitian dancing, similar to hula, also includes drum beats at a faster rhythm.

Hula was originally a way to respect ancient gods through telling stories through the dance. When I dance hula, it’s telling a story with my hands. The same goes for Tahitian. Hula and Tahitian have been modernized for a long time,” Braga said. “Even the more modern styles of hula and Tahitian tell stories of love, of place or of people.”

The different levels of hula and Tahitian at the school include beginner and advanced keiki for children, intermediate and advanced wahine for girls, kane for boys, and makua for older women. Braga now dances as an advanced wahine six hours a week at the hālau.

I dance hula because it’s a lot of fun. I’ve met a lot of amazing people at my halau, and a lot of them are my closest friends,” Braga said. “It’s interesting because it’s fun to watch hands and feet and hips working together.”

Braga participates in the hālau’s yearly concerts, such as the Ho’ike concert in the summer, and the Christmas Luau, a feast of Hawaiian food. Advanced wahines can also participate in fall and summer competitions, which Braga plans to compete for in the future.

“I never feel nervous when I’m dancing on stage. Usually, if I have to be in front of a large crowd, I get nervous, but it’s different when I’m dancing because it’s something I love doing,” Braga said. “Hula and Tahitian [dancing] itself inspire me because no matter what I do, dancing can always make me happy.”

By Jeremy Hsiao, Staff writer
Photo courtesy of Lisa Braga