Hula Workshop
of Southern New England

Traditional and new hula instruction and performances. Hawaiian language and culture. Luau and party consultation and entertainment. Offering beginner through advanced hula classes and private hula lessons.
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Come and try out Hula Workshop's style of teaching.

Contact us for more information.

No dance experience?
That's okay. We'll make you feel comfortable.

Did you know?
Dramatic acting, public speaking, and ballet are each excellent backgrounds for learning hula.

Ka Leo o Ke Kai - Voice of the Sea


I have a hula room in my house. It's where I taught until I got too many students to fit in it. The room is still decorated with photos of dancers and performances, a Herb Kane print of a heiau, a crisply printed Fijian tapa, and my original, weighty hau bark Tahitian `ote`a skirt.

Some of that stuff goes back a long way. Just like the hula knowledge I gained from my kumu, it's heirloom material, culture crystallized in time. 

The one thing that stays up to date is the clock, set always to Hawai`i Standard Time. In the morning, when I take my tea into the hula room, I see that it's still aumoe, the middle of the night back there. At any time of day I can glance at that clock and meditate on what must be happening in Hawai`i Ala--to the people there, Hawai`i Nei.

There are other ways of keeping up. This link from Honolulu City and County will show you live pictures of Waikiki Beach. I pull it up every so often when I'd like to be somewhere else.

Manawa is one of the Hawaiian words for time. There's an NFL player named Ho`omanawanui. Mainland sports announcers have a hard time with it because they just see a bunch of letters, not the words embedded in the name. Ho`omanawanui means 'patient.' Depending on how it's used grammatically it can also mean to try someone's patience. Michael Ho`omanawanui is a tight end, so I guess his name could have either meaning, depending on what team you're on.

I keia manawa, right now, builders are finishing up an addition on my house which will include a new hula room. Spacious, built over living rock (more on that in another post), with a cozy gas fireplace and wide French doors to a dance-able deck, the room will let us dance more freely and in tune with nature. 

At the start of the New Year, contemplating all this, I wonder: How can there be anything, if everything is always changing? The clock ticks, the heart beats, humans draw the lines. 

Hau`oli Makahiki Hou!


James MacArthur, the actor who played the original Danno on Hawai`i Five-O, passed away at the age of 72 on October 28.  He was the last living of the major players in the original show.

I had not intended to write again about the show or its cast so soon, but Danno deserves an In Memoriam.  The 1960s-70s Hawai`i Five-O was the product of a more genteel time--I'd go so far as to say, a more sophisticated time--and the actors played it that way.  Rather than come to fisticuffs over a disagreement about police procedure, there'd be the attitude in Jack Lord's strong jaw countering James MacArthur's raised eyebrow.

In our current era, we've been advertised at to the point that the only way to get an audience's attention is to enact their startle response.  We have a lot to relearn about subtlety.  James MacArthur's body of work as Danno isn't a bad case study.


I've been watching the new Hawaii Five-O (on CBS). I've got some issues with it (including how it promotes using the US military for civilian law enforcement), but I'm enjoying it. In fact, I DVR it and the neighbor ladies come over every Wednesday to watch each week's episode and drink wine.

Kono, McGarrett's supposedly Hawaiian sidekick, is played by Grace Park, a Korean-Canadian (née American) actor. But the Kono in the original series was Zulu, a real Hawaiian. Zulu's given name was Gilbert Kauhi, and he was from Kalapana on the Big Island.

His role was more "Yes, Boss" than the current Kono's--but so was everyone's, all in utter deference to Jack Lord's McGarrett in the original show. Still, he interjected a lot of authenticity, with offhand comments that introduced Hawaiian words or customs.

I never really watched the original Five-O till after I'd lived in Honolulu. In fact, I had zero interest in Hawai`i until I moved there to study Polynesian languages, which I had a lot of interest in, particularly Samoan--and that was how I met Zulu.

After my East-West Center grant ran out, I decided to work as a cocktail waitress in Waikiki. I'm the kind of person who always goes for the best, and I thought the best was Duke Kahanamoku's nightclub in Waikiki.

Duke's was in the center of things in the International Marketplace, drew tourist crowds and local big spenders, had a Polynesian show and a music, dance, and comedy show headlined by Zulu. To me it meant the cocktail waitress Bigtime, and big tips.

It was a plum job, and the only reason I got it was that the manager, Rocky Savaiiagea, was Samoan, and I'd put on my resume that I was studying Samoan language.

Zulu had a great voice and a big presence. He sang American popular songs in his show, including Green, Green Grass of Home (toward the end of the show). There was a live band to back him. And there were dancers, who did some hula and some stuff from musicals, most notably Fan Tan Fannie from Flower Drum Song, whose lyrics impressed me almost as much as the girls' red satin and black lace costumes.

Z (that's what people who worked at Duke's called him) did some standup in the show, and he modified the jokes when the audience was predominately locals. I still remember some of them, but I really can't say them here without offending one or another ethnic group. In the 1970s at least, poking fun at the well-known stereotypes for each ethnic group was high humor.

After his show, Z always had a double brandy alexander. One of us waitresses always brought it to his dressing room. I tried a brandy alexander after that and thought it was pretty good.

The show was good, well staged, and Zulu had good comic timing. I can't even remember why I quit working at Duke's, but the last time I saw Zulu, he was on on the TV news, crying as Pele took Kalapana, covering his home--and some of my favorite places--with lava.

Zulu died young, aged 66, of complications of diabetes. When I look at the old Five-O episodes featuring him--mostly for the first time--I appreciate his achievements in a way a twentysomething grad student couldn't, and I admire the man's many talents.

Halau: What's in a word.

The word halau (the first 'a' has a macron over it if you can figure out how to do it on your computer) is often used today in English, as in Hawaiian, to indicate a hula learning center with formal protocols. The word itself in Hawaiian means 'long house.' The Puku`i - Elbert dictionary gives that as the first meaning, suggesting a place 'for canoes or hula instruction.'

Word meanings and usage change over time. The dictionary definition focuses on the building, the current common usage focuses on what goes on inside the building.

Back when I was studying with Kaha`i Topolinski, he didn't like the word halau. He called his school, 'Ka Pa Hula Hawai`i' (the pa also with the long, macron-ed 'a').

means a wall, fence, or enclosure. Kaha`i made a big deal about it. I'm not quite sure anymore what the significance was to him; perhaps the separation, or the embrace of the enclosing walls.

also means rhythm, beat, the downbeat at the beginning of dancing, so maybe there was a kaona, a deeper meaning, in it for him. Pa is what the sun or moon does when it shines and the wind does when it blows.

Back to halau: The dictionary gives a somewhat vague origin, but I think the word halau very likely is related to the word for hale, 'house,' in the same way the Spanish casota is related to casa. It's a major-big house. Your mouth wide open sounds it out in addition to the basic word.

I'm writing about this because it seems to me that today the word halau carries a certain mystique, intended or not.

Why call a place of hula learning a halau? Is it to inspire? To foster growth? To indicate a serious approach? To claim rank or authority? To sound exclusive? Or perhaps just because there isn't really another Hawaiian word for where we learn hula.

It's good to respect all halau, but judge them for yourself based on what goes on inside the building.

Now let's all go down to the boathouse and dance.

Keepers of the Flame

I just watched the most amazing documentary. Keepers of the Flame, directed by Eddie Kamae, chronicles the life work of three women who did a tremendous amount of work to perpetuate Hawaiian culture in the 20th century: Mary Kawena Puku`i, scholar and writer of numerous works on Hawaiian language and culture, Edith Kanaka`ole, kumu hula, chanter, and songwriter, and hula legend `Iolani Luahine.

All I wanted to do was preview the DVD for my students, but I couldn't stop watching.

There's a fair amount available about Aunty Edith, and I walk by Kawena Puku`i on my bookshelf every day. But `Iolani Luahine has been elusive since the days I lived in Hawai`i. This is the most footage of her dancing I've seen in one place. And is it dancing! This is hula.

The film does a great job of interweaving the life stories of the three wahine and those of us who wish to perpetuate Hawaiian culture should watch and listen--nana and ho`olohe. Available at

It turns out Eddie Kamae and his wife Myrna have produced a number of films documenting the lives and knowledge of kupuna to save it for us and future generations. I could eat that website whole: I want all of them!

Voice of the Sea

One of the visual treats of Hawai`i is the approach to the islands by air. After flying for so long over blue ocean, you come back to earth in the shape of eight islands. Lower and slower, your plane carries you on the introductory tour, east to west, Hawai`i to Kaua`i.

Flying into Rhode Island is just as beautiful. I dare you to compare! From one place, little pieces of land in the middle of the sea, to the other, a state with the sea in the middle of it. And yes, an island, Aquidneck.

These lands are different, with different beauty, different ugliness, different people and cultures. The sea is, in some sense, the same. The character of the ocean, the color of the waters, the types of seaweed--sure, there are differences between the tropical Pacific and the North Atlantic. But the voice of the sea is the same. Incessant, insistent.

The sea purifies and equalizes. It does not care who you are or where you came from. It's never the same and always the same.

It was with these thoughts in mind that I chose to name the Hula Workshop blog Ka Leo o Ke Kai. E ho`olohe...listen.