‘Why we hula’

HANAPEPE — When the curtains rise at the 40th annual Queen Liliuokalani Keiki Hula Competition Thursday at the Neal Blaisedell Center in Honolulu, this will be the final time Luke Hunadi of Ka Lei Mokihana O Leinaala will walk into the stage lights.

“This means a lot to me,” said the young boy who towered over his hula brothers. “I want us to do good, and I want everyone to have a good time. I have been doing hula since I was 5 years old and this is the last time I can dance as a keiki.”

Leinaala Pavao-Jardin, kumu hula for Ka Lei Mokihana O Leinaala, a Kalaheo-based hula halau, will leave Wednesday with a contingent of 32 kaikamahine, or girls, and 10 keiki kane dancers to participate in the keiki hula competition. This year’s festival features halau from around the state as well as several from Japan. Ka Lei Mokihana O Leinaala is the only halau from Kauai.

Hunadi, who in 2013 earned the Master Keiki (soloist) title at the contest, was among the dancers performing its final cleansing and blessing at the choppy waters off the Salt Pond Beach Park under a setting sun Sunday.

He was joined by Jonah Sandal, who will represent the halau during the Master Keiki competition. He will be performing “Hanalei Bay,” which should help him because it’s about his home.

“I’ve been doing hula for five years, and I learned a lot from Luke and my hula brothers,” Sandal said, “but I’m still nervous.”

Thirteen kaikamahine from Kauai will be appearing one last time on Oahu before aging up.

Sanoe Kaluahine will represent the halau as its Miss Keiki Hula candidate. She will perform “Kamakua Lani.”

“This mele pays tribute and honors Mama Ane Kanahele and is very special because Sanoe’s parents are related to Mama Ane who does so much for us,” Pavao-Jardin said.

Kaluahine, who has been dancing with Ka Lei Mokihana O Leinaala for nearly three years, is excited about the honor.

“This mele is about the Heavenly Father, kahelelani shells and Niihau,” the young wahine said. “I think about the song a lot — even while I’m not dancing. I try to focus on what the song is about. This is not about winning or losing, this is about why we hula.”

Pavao-Jardin said because this is the 40th anniversary of the hula competition, the halau were allowed to select their own numbers, the girls honoring Queen Liliuokalani and the boys paying tribute to King Kalakaua, the Merrie Monarch.

Pavao Jardin said this year’s competition is very special to her.

“We have young people dancing from all parts of the island, and the parents bring the keiki from as far away as Hanalei to Kalaheo so they can practice — what a great show of commitment and dedication to hula,” she said.

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