IT’S NOT even November yet, but the gray skies already feel relentless, and a tropical getaway sounds mighty nice. When a friend told me she had gotten into hula, I decided it was the perfect activity to cheer me up for winter.
Lita Hoke runs hula classes out of Magnolia at her school, Sunshine from Polynesia. (Even the name of the school makes me feel warm inside.) There, you can pick from a variety of classes that center on hula, the cultural dance of Hawaii.
My friend told me in advance to wear a swingy skirt to help me see my hips while dancing. I was glad I brought a tiered skirt; once there, I saw everyone was wearing bright, flowered skirts that emphasized hip swings.
I arrived early at the studio, which is decorated with a large mirror, gourd drums and Hawaiian paraphernalia. Hoke took me and another early student through a few of the basic steps. She made us practice stepping with a flat foot and told me to ignore the arms until I could do the steps.
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Moving my feet in the right direction wasn’t terribly complicated, but sashaying my hips side to side in time with my feet was trickier. My hips aren’t shy, but they aren’t the most dexterous on the block. I did my best to keep up.
Other students arrived, and we soon were going through warm-ups. Students fluttered their hands gracefully and moved in sync to various songs.
We worked first on the seaweed song “Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai,” which had a nice, slow pace. The song is based on the women who pick seaweed, and has some sass, including waving a finger at people who think the work is easy. Other steps included lifting our heels off the floor like we were stepping delicately over hot rocks in the sun.
Dancing to the song felt like art as we shaped our fingers like flowers blossoming and imitated rain falling down.
Many of the dancers were practicing for a recital, and we moved quickly through a group finale number, “Tahiti, Tahiti,” and on to “Na Ka Pueo,” a song about an owl and a boat.
Both the music and the choreography moved faster. I hovered in back so I could watch people’s feet. “Na Ka Pueo” was challenging, with both tricky feet and complicated hands. And don’t forget about those hips. Hoke worked with the advanced students to clarify the moves.
I picked up some basic steps, like kaholo, the side-to-side step with waving hands that I most associate with hula. I also learned some more complicated steps and rules, including keeping my knees bent softly. I liked the move ami, when we swiveled our hips at different tempos.
It was challenging to dive into dances everyone already knew, yet it was fun to see the students wave their wrists gracefully, to lift their heels in sync and to show off some amazing hip action.
Ideally, your shoulders stay level, and all the work happens in your feet, hips and arms, Hoke said. I could hardly pretend I made it to that level in one class. I still enjoyed trying to coordinate my feet and rotating my hips in time to the music. Over time, your hips get a lot looser and your core will get stronger.
You may sweat in hula, but that’s not the point. The dance is there for you to move, to express yourself and to dance with others. Take your hips on a tropical getaway; they’ll thank you.
Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at papercraneyoga.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.