For a beautiful workout that just flows, try hula

Traditional dance of Hawaii blends toning, culture, spiritual learning

Health & Fitness

September 19, 2004|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When a job transfer took Kas Nakamura to Hawaii, she never imagined that 30 years later she would still be so connected to the islands.

But the culture, the people and especially the dance, took root.

Now, as a hula instructor, the Pasadena resident helps others discover the dance and, in essence, the culture of Hawaii.

Although the flowing movements of hula can appear simple, it is more complicated than it looks and offers a steady workout for all ages and fitness levels.

M-tItM-Fs an exercise of the body, but also the mind,M-v says Nakamura, 59.

Nakamura teaches class several times a week, both at her home studio and at area senior centers. She also invites traveling hula teachers and performers to her studio for workshops. She and many of her students perform in competition and at area shows.

FOR THE RECORD - In a caption accompanying an article about hula dancing in Sunday's Home & Family section, Jenny Kintaro of Severn was misidentified as her sister Kathryn.
The Sun regrets the error.

M-tI was in Hawaii several times, so when I heard she was teaching this class I signed up. ItM-Fs very good exercise and just makes you feel good,M-v says Gertrude Magid, 78, a member of the Pasadena Senior Center. M-tYou can just see that the motion is good for you. And itM-Fs interesting.M-v

Magid says she practices traditional exercises like stretching about 30 minutes and hula about 15 minutes daily to keep in shape.

Hula is much more than dance, explains Amy K. Stillman, director of Asian/Pacific American Studies at the University of Michigan and author of several books on Hawaiian music and hula.

It is a way of storytelling and preserving history that evolved from Hawaiian culture before there was a written language. Banned during the early 1800s by Christian missionaries, King David Kalakaua championed the revival of Hawaiian cultural traditions during the late 1800s. He was known as the Merrie Monarch, for whom an annual hula competition and festival is dedicated.

Relaxing, effective

Hula is an effective workout. The languid, flowing look is deceptive, Stillman notes, and masks the considerable stamina and endurance needed to execute even a two-minute choreographed dance. The more traditional hula styles are often more vigorous, requiring muscular support in the thighs. Constant arm movement stretches the upper body as well.

For Sharon OM-FNeill, hula is a way to take her mind off her demanding job as a court reporter.

M-tHula is very relaxing. ItM-Fs my escape,M-v says OM-FNeill, 58. M-tYou get a lot of leg exercise and lower- body exercise. But you also need to stand up straight, have good posture and keep your tummy pulled in.M-v

OM-FNeill, who is trained in ballet, tap and jazz, said a former dance instructor suggested she take NakamuraM-Fs class to expand her repertoire and to learn one or two dance numbers.

That was 20 years ago.

M-tI just loved it. So a friend and I stayed on for all these years,M-v says OM-FNeill, who also takes tap and Pilates classes. M-tItM-Fs a very pleasant form of exercise. The music is beautiful, the motions are beautiful, and unless you get into something really complicated, itM-Fs just a very comfortable form of exercise.M-v

NakamuraM-Fs classes at her studio usually run about two hours. The sessions begin and end in the traditional style, with prayer. Dancers enter the hula school by chanting in Hawaiian for permission to enter the school, then a chant welcomes them in to begin the process of learning. They close with a chant in thanks.

Although more people seem to be discovering the lure of hula, that wasnM-Ft always the case. During the 1950s and 1960s, hula was considered as mostly entertainment for tourists, says Stillman. Then in the 1970s, a cultural renaissance began to blossom and a renewed interest in native Hawaiian culture took off in the United States and also Japan.

M-tPeople see itM-Fs a tradition with a deeply spiritual component,M-v Stillman says. M-tAnd itM-Fs a tradition that looks gentle, accommodating and hospitable. At the same time, there is something deep and spiritual about it that I think some people [feel they lack] in their own lives.M-v

Growing in popularity

One measure of its popularity, Stillman adds, M-tis IM-Fm seeing more and more videotapes hitting the market on fitness and hula. I think this is a good thing. Most of the hula is very low impact and is very enjoyable. It doesnM-Ft require much basic technique, so you can watch and learn.M-v

JoAnn Toalepai says she thinks the idea of getting exercise from hula dancing is M-tgreat.M-v Her family has worked as a Polynesian dance troupe since the 1980s. Recently her son took over the troupe, MekiM-Fs Tamure Polynesian Dance Group in Baltimore. If someone wants to learn hula instead of perform, they can still go to Toalepai for lessons.

Hula schools, or halaus, offer different types of hula and each has its own interpretation of the different styles. Students in a halau usually consider one another family members, referring to others as hula sisters and hula brothers.

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