Finding their stride: Hula dancers compete in virtual race series

  • Women from Halau Kaeaikahelelani compete in Aloha Sports Kona virtual race series based on Legends of Hawaii theme. (Courtesy Photo/Janet Higa-Miller)

What started out as a fun and motivational way to get a few women outside to incorporate some fitness back into their life after COVID-19 has now turned into an inspirational fellowship of over two dozen from Halau Kaeaikahelelani running and walking for a healthy cause.

July 25th marked the halau’s second participation in the virtual race series of four events organized by Aloha Sports Kona highlighting a theme based on Legends of Hawaii.


The virtual series started in February with the legendary love story of Naupaka and Kaui, followed by The Legend of Pele and Poliahu in April, and July’s Legend of Haloa. It is intended to be progressive with participants given four weeks to complete each event all in preparation for Aloha Sports Kona’s live 10-mile trail event scheduled later this year.

“The girls that came out to do the first 5K together (Pele and Poliahu) were so excited as they had such a great experience being together and so they wanted to do it again,” Yuki Kaea Lyons-Yglesias said. “And so, we agreed that we do it again and we also wanted to encourage more of the ladies to join us. The call went out and we have a bunch of students joining us on this round and I can only imagine that our group numbers will continue to grow.”

Kumu Hula Yuki Kaea Lyons-Yglesias and Kumu Hula Lily Kahelelani Alohikea-Smith, are sisters and well-known hula teachers born and raised in Kona who began Halau Kaeaikahelelani in 2015 after three decades studying under Kumu Nani Lim-Yap.

Students of their halau range from Keiki as young as 18 months, to Kupuna well beyond 80 years, and members as far as Canada. However, their passion to perpetuate the Hawaiian culture and language through hula came to an abrupt halt when COVID-19 hit the Big Island.

“While we didn’t stop dancing hula, our classes were all on Zoom for 18 months,” Lyons-Yglesias said. “Once we were back to face-to-face, we regulated our schedule following the CDC guidelines — 10 ladies at a time with everyone else on Zoom, then we would rotate that schedule so everyone else had a chance to come for face-to-face classes.”

Lyons-Yglesias said during hula practice everyone acknowledged how they missed being with one another and how happy they felt to be back. Yet most apparent was their loss of fitness with some undesirable weight gain.

“We realized how out of shape we were and there was concern of their dresses and costumes not fitting,” Lyons-Yglesias laughed. “That inspired us, and I remember it becoming a joke and telling the girls, ‘You guys gotta figure out and do something about it. I don’t care what you gotta do, you just gotta do something. Whether you choose to walk, run, go to the gym — just get it done.’ And that’s how it all started.’”

Halau student, Tracie Brewer, who Lyons-Yglesias calls, “the instigator,” coordinated the online registration sign-up which motivated the initial group of women to start “training” on their own. They began by walking to gain the strength and stamina needed to complete the 3.1-miles as many have never completed a 5K distance before.

On the day of the event, Brewer had the women dress up in their tutus and halau shirts to color coordinate with the theme of the event, and along with her husband, Kirk, provided water aid stations and a sag wagon filled with goodies and snacks.

For Lyons-Yglesias, who is a cohost for The Morning Show with Kapa Hawaiian FM Radio and an instructor at Hawaii Community College at Palamanui’s Hawaii Lifestyles Department for the last 11 years, it became just the outlet she needed to get back into the swing of things.

“The first time (Pele and Poliahu Virtual 5K in April) there were a handful of women and we had so much fun,” she said. “We have a few ladies who are athletes or exercise buffs. The rest of us are not, so it became this really fun supportive way to get everybody involved. It took me forever to do the 5K but I was inspired because I wanted to do it with my ladies. And I needed to be out, I needed adult conversations, I needed that mommy time to connect with other women in a healthy manner, and what better way to do with than with a bunch of ladies that I love, and right there on Alii Drive.”

“And there are a handful of athletes — and I know they were professional athletes because they were super fit — every time they passed our group, they had the most encouraging words. ‘Looking good girls, go get um ladies, and you got this!’ They said this while running past us and I felt so moved because they acknowledged us, a group of women, that perhaps were not athletes but were out there doing something. And that was super meaningful to me.”

Lyons-Yglesias feels running and hula share some similarities as both require hard work and dedication, both are fun, and both brings the best out in everyone. She can already foresee the halau continue to not only participate, but also increase their distance at future run/walk events.


“I think we are definitely onto something,” she laughed. “I can already foresee us continuing what we are doing now as a team, as a halau, as a group of ladies. Outside of gathering like (The Legend of Haloa Virtual 5K), if you are a non-athlete like me, I’m busy, and so I actually have to practice and make time to get my body going just to do this darn thing. It’s not easy being a working mom, with multiple kids and squeezing in exercise time. The minutes in my day are all accounted for.

“So, this is a great way to gain back our fitness and reestablish an opportunity for these ladies to bond in a healthy way outside of hula. It’s more of the camaraderie of supporting our community, we are able to do in a very safe way as we are within our own halau bubble, so that makes it safe for us to participate. And because my sister and I are born and raised here, it’s really important to us and feel passionate about supporting Kona in the capacity we can.”

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