‘Scary part of hula is the first step’

“Nana’s House is so gracious and generous to offer these classes,” said Lehua Matsumoto.

Nana’s House of Waimea offers free hula classes to the community at the Kaumakani Neighborhood Center on Tuesday nights. The classes are taught by Matsumoto.

The hula classes help to keep families and communities close, said Momi Machado, an outreach worker at Nana’s House.

Matsumoto said she has had families with grandmother, mother and daughter all taking her class together.

From time to time, she has had exchange students attending Waimea High School attend her classes.

“Through hula, the group gets close,” Matsumoto said. “They refer to each other as hula sisters. By learning hula together, they become family members … the relationship extends far beyond our island.”

A new series of six-week sessions is beginning.

“It’s a slow starting process,” Matsumoto said. She has three students enrolled, with only one showing up regularly.

“It’s scary taking that first step, but once they take that first step they find that it’s lots of fun.”

Matsumoto received her foundational hula training from Maiki Aiu Lake, known as the mother of Hawaiian renaissance in hula. She also credits Kimo Alama Keaulana and Kamamalu Klein as her kumu hula. She has a degree in dance ethnology from the University of Hawai‘i, Manoa.

Matsumoto focuses on recreational hula. “It’s not for performance; it’s about your own well-being and the love and beauty of hula.”

She primarily uses songs about Kaua‘i. “People should know about the island. They can learn about the culture through language and mele (song).”

In her introductory lessons, Matsumoto teaches words in categories. Two categories, earth and ocean, relate to the intimate relationship we have with the environment. A third category is made up of words dealing with self. Words that show how we relate to others with the spirit of aloha make up a fourth category. These words and their corresponding movements are those commonly found in hula.

Students are required to keep a hula book in which they note Hawaiian vocabulary and draw their own illustrations.

“There are no kupuna to tell stories, to help us hear the spoken word, so the hula books take the place of that,” Matsumoto said.

Students refer to their hula books for help in remembering words.

Paige Wickline was the lone student last week. She said her friend saw a poster advertising the class and told her about it. She always wanted to learn hula and the time was right, so she decided to enroll.

“It’s great, almost like having private lessons,” she said.

Matsumoto said her classes are a time to relax and forget whatever else is going on in life.

She tailors the class to suit the needs of her students. If they appear to be having a hard time, she will use “hapa haole” songs to help them get used to the movements.

Matsumoto said she enjoys sharing the vocabulary and language that reveal the Hawaiian way of poetry and how they view the world.

Although the focus is not on performance, Nana’s House invites the class to perform at some of their functions.

Matsumoto said it’s not too late to sign up for the class, since it’s still at the beginning stages.

Not many resources are available to people on the Westside, Matsumoto said, so she would like to see more people take advantage of what Nana’s House has to offer.

• Cynthia Matsuoka is a freelance writer for The Garden Island and former principal of Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School. She can be reached by e-mail at aharju@kauaipubco.com

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