All I Need to Know I learned from Hula
by Lynette Sheppard
November 20, 2016 - 10:19am

Hula. The graceful storytelling dance that delights visitors and natives alike. I never dreamed I would actually come to dance it. And I certainly never thought it would become a way of life.

During the first five years that I came to Moloka`i, I photographed the local hula halau (hula school or group).  I loved the chants, the music, the motions, and the energy infusing the dancers long before I understood a single word.  

There was something absolutely compelling about hula.   I couldn’t get enough. It gave me what Hawai`ians call “chicken skin”, goosebumps all over. Yet when Moana Dudoit, one of the kumu hula of Moana’s Hula Halau, would urge me to learn hula with the Gracious Ladies, I would always demur.  My reasons were amorphous and changed from day to day.  I didn’t feel coordinated enough, it wasn’t my culture, I wasn’t Hawai`ian, I didn’t live in Moloka`i year-round, and the list went on.

One day, I must have been feeling especially weak willed. I caved to Moana’s entreaties and went to hula class.  All my doubts were justified.  I truly wasn’t coordinated enough.  The hand movements alone were doable.  The footwork alone was harder, but doable.  Combining them was exponentially harder than rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time.  Worse yet, you had to to perform these difficult tasks time to the music or ipu (gourd drum.)

The funny thing was; none of it mattered.  I sucked at hula - and I loved it!  I thought that I’d found a joyful exercise that also helped me learn a little of the culture I’d come home to.  Little did I know, hula would become a spiritual journey and a blueprint for my life. Here are just a couple of lessons I’ve learned so far.

Lesson 1  
A`a i ka hula - dare to dance

Step out on your own edge - go for it.  You have nothing to lose - and everything to gain by conquering your fears.  You might make a fool of yourself, in the very best sense of the word.   Be a fool. Be someone willing to take the leap, to risk living fully, to take a chance on joy regardless of the consequences.  What keeps us from daring to dance, from living our lives as if they mattered?  Fears of inadequacy?  Fear of embarrassment?  Fear of censure by others? Or the worst fear, usually unnamed, of opening ourselves up to joy that we don’t feel we deserve?  Embrace uncertainty and jump in with your whole being whatever you choose to do.

Lesson 2
It’s not about what you’re wearing

My first kumu hula, Kanani Brighter, was informing us about an upcoming performance.  It was the first time dancing in public for many of us.  The Health Fair at Molokai General hospital promised to be a big venue.  (The high incidence of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes brings Moloka`ians out in force when free screening and counseling is offered.)  
We all began chattering like a group of mynahs in a koa tree.  What shall we wear?  Long muumuus?  Short?  We don’t have matching outfits.  What will we do?

Kanani looked pained, and finally raised his voice enough to be heard over the cacophony.  “Ladies, ladies!  It’s not about what you’re wearing, it’s about the dance.”

It was as if a bell had rung inside me; a single, pure tone that resonated on a cellular level.  Of course!  It’s not about the image we portray to others.  It’s not what we look like or appear to be.  It’s about how we conduct ourselves, how we dance our lives.  It is about our integrity, values, and authenticity.  It’s about living in alignment with the best in ourselves, rather than shifting our appearance to meet others expectations.  It’s about  letting the joy of the dance (life) shine through you as you do it.  When you wholeheartedly give yourself to the dance, it literally does not matter what you wear.  How you then present yourself is completely congruent with your deepest values.

I learn new lessons daily from my hula practice. The bedrock values of aloha, humility, patience, harmony, and compassion, are signposts for my spiritual journey and my dance through life.


John Barclayon November 21, 2016 - 6:15am

Great blog Lynette. I adore watching Hula. And as you know, my wife had a wonderful time learning while she was on Molokai last year. She still beams with happiness when she watches the video's I took of her.

thanks so much, John. Looking forward to seeing you at the Hui in a couple of weeks. A`a i ka hula, GF!


Verna Yungen on November 21, 2016 - 6:35am

Mahalo for your words on hula. It truly conveys the 'heartbeat' and essence of the kaona when you just dance and enjoy.

Kimberlyon November 21, 2016 - 9:05am

Thank you for your blog post. I love the message and think it applies to how I relate to yoga practice. Not about what clothing I wear---facing the fear of a difficult, challenging pose. It is powerful to shift out of anxiety if I try vs. not trying and then not making progress in strength that ripples to off the mat into life journey

Yes indeed, Kimberly. There are so many paths to learning these lessons. Thanks for sharing this.

Sandi Moreyon November 21, 2016 - 11:17am

Absolutely lovely post. As someone who danced many kinds of dances over my lifetime, I have to say that hula is much more than dance movements. It is a visceral way to understand a people and how they have used the concepts of Aloha to reach into their cultural background and also to offer it to our world. It is more than story telling, which it also is. It reaches into the deepest parts of us and helps make the deepest of connections to others and within ourselves. Plus it is a whole lot of fun and the music is incredible.

Kimon November 21, 2016 - 1:39pm

"It’s about how we conduct ourselves, how we dance our lives." Love that!

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