Hula is the traditional dance of Hawaiian culture. Its long and interesting history includes the infamous period when Christian missionaries openly disapproved of hula and other dances. Interestingly, 150 years after their letters of complaint, free hula classes take place every Sunday at a church hall in North Kihei. And with live ʻukulele accompaniment, too!
For the average visitor, hula is something you see on stage at a luau. Before the official stage performance, you might be lucky to learn a few hula moves while you walk around the grounds but not a complete dance. Maui has many regular luaus where you can spend big bucks for an all-you-can-eat buffet and watch professional hula performers.
To be sure you do get taught hula, you can hire an instructor. If you have more time, you can enroll as a student at a hula school, a.k.a. halau. If you have 16 consecutive weeks to spare, you can register for a 3-credit course called Hawaiian Language Thru Hula at Maui College in Kahului. However, it’s not offered every semester.
I discovered this little gem of FREE HULA with LIVE UKE through a series of fortunate events. I call it — by word of mouth.
After my last church service on Maui as regular church pianist, I brought my mother to the Sunday afternoon hula classes at the 100-year old church in North Kihei. It was her first lesson in hula. Meanwhile, I joined the ʻukulele players led by Kumu Keoloha whom I met a few weeks ago at the Thursday evening jam sessions. He had announced that we could practice our “vamps” and learn new songs by accompanying hula classes.
For the first 15-minutes, as Kumu had warned, we played the three chords in the introduction repeatedly: II7-V7-I. In the key of F, it was G7-C7-F. In the key of G, it’s A7-D7-G. Simple.
While we were immersed in the vamping, the hula teacher, a.k.a. Kumu Hula, showed the adult participants what to do. Each move and gesture correspond to the words of the song. Thus each song has a different sequence of movements.
I was pleased to see my mother flash several bright smiles. At the end of the hour, she said to me, “I can come here by myself.” In other words, you don’t have to chauffeur me — I like it.
What’s unique about these Sunday hula classes is that they are accompanied by live music. I’ve seen hula classes conducted elsewhere, at the MACC near where I live, and heard of classes in people’s homes. But I’ve never heard of live musicians accompanying the dancers. Typically the hula dancers dance to recorded music, i.e. CDs.
How do these Sunday hula dancers get live ʻukulele accompaniment? For one, Kumu Hula is Kumu Keoloha’s baby sister. He invited her to teach these classes at the same location where he started the famous ʻuke jams a few years earlier. Secondly, it’s a great way for ʻukulele players to practice performing.
Why are these hula classes free? Both kumus have full-time jobs. They’re not giving up their Sunday afternoons to entertain or moonlight. This is their time to connect as a family and educate others about Hawaiian culture. Those of us who know about these classes are very lucky indeed.
Needless to say, donations for the church are always welcome.
Keolahou Church at 177 South Kihei Road, Maui
- 1 to 2 pm adult beginners
- 2 to 3 pm children
- 3 to 5 pm adult non-beginners
You can get the song chart (lyrics and chords) to Sophisticated Hula online:
- In G major: one-page PDF from the Berkeley ʻUkulele Club
- In F major: one-page PDF from Mele Ohana
- In D major: one-page PDF from Richard’s Uke Songbook
- In C major: one-page PDF from Mike Bonnice.