Hawaiʻi’s most popular dance adopted by native Hawaiians to tell their story is known as the hula. Although each island has at one point claimed to be the origin of the hula, its official birthplace dances between man and god depending on who you ask. Some claim that Hawaiian goddess Hiʻiaka’s close friend Hopoe was the first hula dancer, while others call Laka, the Polynesian goddess of navigation, the first to dance the hula. A third suggestion is Kapo, Kapoʻulakīnaʻu, goddess of fertility and sorcery. Regardless of the exact origin, Hawaiʻi has embraced the tradition of hula as a way of storytelling, imagery, and cultural expression. Life cycles of man and of nature are expressed through hula, and sacred milestones are recognized with certain hulas as well. The birth of a child, the new moon, honoring a particular deity — all of these can be expressed through dancing the hula.
Hula performances have become a cultural practice to keep ancient traditions alive and honor the ancestors of Hawaiʻi. The hula is often showcased alongside the Samoan fire dance, Tahitian otea, and Maori haka, although it is traditionally Hawaiian in nature. That said, there are two designations of hula:
Hula kahiko is the more “formal” version, traditionally performed as a ceremony, including an oli (chant) and drums. (Most likely seen at a lūʻau.)
Hula ʻauana is a less formal version of hula, often performed without a specific ceremony, and accompanied by a stringed instrument. (Most likely enjoyed as entertainment, or at a community gathering.)
Enjoying the hula respectfully means understanding the dance as an art and as a way to establish a deeper connection to Hawaiian heritage. Hula dancers train for years under a kumu (hula teacher) before performing in public, and the training is extremely physically demanding. The art of hula is one to be respected, as the sanctity of the dance is ceremonial in purpose, and takes years of practice to master.