Touch of the islands and the joy of hula Dance: Kas Nakamura of Pasadena, who lived in Hawaii in the 1970s, is preparing her students for a competition there in June.

March 21, 1997|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Flowers, ocean waves, sand bars and tropical island sounds transformed the basement of Kas Nakamura's Pasadena home this week, as she and four of her dance students, rehearsing for a competition in Hawaii, dramatized nature's beauty.

Four women gathered in a circle for a pule, saying the Lord's Prayer in Hawaiian, then swayed their hips, made lilting hand gestures, turned in circles and formed lines, using their bodies to depict the shapes of islands, the strength of waves, the movement of sharks, the passage of a memory.

"As we kaholo [sidestep] to the left we pull our hands apart, the music talks about islands, winds, sand bars," Nakamura, 52, explained to her Tuesday evening class. "All we're going to do is show the island that's resting in the calm."

Sometimes, the students' faces strained with effort as they lowered into a squat, and all were breathing audibly after about ++ 15 minutes.

Other times they looked placid and content, moving before a wall of mirrors to the vocals and strumming coming from the basement stereo.

"This is a gentle place, very low waves and everything," Nakamura said, showing them a dance move in which the students kept their hands, the waves, below their chins.

This year is Nakamura's 27th year of running Halau Pulama Mau Ke Aloha Ka Ohana Ilima. Roughly translated that means: "The hula school that with all its love cherishes its roots."

She teaches hula, Tahitian, Samoan, and new Zealand Maori styles of dance in the basement of her home in the 800 block of Riverside Drive in Pasadena.

Although about 5,000 miles from Hawaii, the studio has some touches of the islands.

Smooth flat black rocks called ili ili -- incorporated into Hawaiian dance for percussion, as castanets are used in Latin dancing -- rested near the stereo.

Nakamura's ti leaf skirt -- made from plants that grow in Hawaii and fastened to a belt of twine -- hung from a wall in the 15-foot by 30-foot studio near pictures of Hawaiian dance and culture.

In the den outside the studio are large wooden sculptures of tiki gods.

And a Polynesian Barbie.

Originally from Baltimore, Nakamura took a classified job with the National Security Agency that took her to Oahu in the 1970s, where she discovered Hawaiian dance.

At 31, she began competing in Hawaiian and Tahitian dances in statewide competitions on the islands of Kauai and Hawaii.

In modern competitions, groups are judged on their chants and songs, and on the quality of the dancing and their costumes.

Nakamura came home from Hawaii when her father became ill in 1975.

Since then she has been giving private lessons and 90-minute group courses twice a week that cost $30 a month.

In June, 12 of her students will travel to Hawaii to dance in Ka Hula Lea ("The Joy of Hula") competition sponsored by a cultural program at the Royal Waikaloan Hotel.

"We definitely have a hula itinerary," she said. "We'll be doing a lot of sightseeing, but in terms of hula, not so much the general tourist."

Pub Date: 3/21/97

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