For Kumu Hula Lona Warner, who started Halau Makanani in her Kailua-Kona carport at age 63, hula is about more than dance movements. It’s about life and mana.
Warner, now 79, started teaching hula to neighbors and friends after moving back home to the Big Island from California, where she was a registered nurse and kumu hula in Torrance. Halau Makanani soon outgrew her carport and she now teaches at the West Hawaii Civic Center. She also offers free kupuna hula classes at the Lei Kupuna senior housing project and teaches hula to students with developmental disabilities.
It’s a passion that began in California as a volunteer Special Olympics coach.
“In 2007, four boys with Down syndrome asked me to teach them hula, and I figured if they can do sports, they can do hula,” recalls Warner. Until recently, she served as the West Hawaii Special Olympics head of delegation.
On a 6-acre farm in Holualoa, Halau Ka‘eaikahehelani offers hula to all age groups.
“Hula is not just physical. It’s a mental, spiritual, emotional connection that feeds the soul,” says Kumu Hula Ka‘ea Lyons, 47, who co-founded the halau in 2015 with her sister, Lily Kahelelani Lyons, 44.
Their kupuna students agree that hula is more than a dance. It helps them exercise, stay healthy and socialize.
“It’s an incredible sisterhood that’s so much more than hula, it’s learning the language, the culture, oli (chants), I love everything about this class,” says Cathie Amelotte, 63.
A study conducted by the Department of Native Hawaiian Health at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine found that hula lowers blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease.
“This is something we’ve always known — Western medicine has caught up with us,” says Lyons. “Hula gets the heart going with movement, dancing, chanting — and it’s more than just exercise.”
Lyons is a familiar voice on the radio — she co-hosts the morning show on KAPA Hawaiian FM. The sisters say teaching hula also means teaching culture, language and even genealogy.
One class assignment is for students to trace their family ancestry back to maternal and paternal great grandparents, then recite their names in Hawaiian in front of the class.
“It was the biggest challenge for me because I am adopted, and I knew what was going to be expected (ancestry research) if I joined this halau,” says student Kalena Mae, 49. “I chose to recite the ancestry of the family who hanai’d (adopted) me first because they are my family who nurtured me. The ancestors of my natural family came second in the order of discovery. As a student in this halau, I get to learn all these things that have been calling me my whole life. I learn everything about the culture, myself, my ancestors, and it means everything to me.”
“They (kupuna) are seasoned in life, with so many experiences, we are very honored that they have chosen to spend time with us, like family,” says Lyons.
Disrupt Aging is a column produced by AARP Hawaii, West Hawaii Today and The Hawaii Tribune-Herald. It runs monthly in the West Hawaii Today Home Section on Sunday. Roberta Wong Murray is an AARP volunteer seeking stories about people who are redefining their age. Contact her at email@example.com or call 322-6886.