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.
Visit us!
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

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.

Add a Comment

(Enter the numbers shown in the above image)