KALAHEO — Shake it up creatively and do something different.
That’s the theory Lila Metzger, co-founder of Kauai Underground Arts, is using to help stop suicide and drug use, and to change the tides of youth culture on Kauai.
The point of the entire studio is to infuse Kauai’s youth and adults with a love for life and provide a different activity for folks to do on the island aside from the everyday beach and sports life.
“I grew up here and I love this place, but the reality is that there’s a cycle of partying and drugs and getting pregnant young here,” Metzger said. “The biggest obstacle for kids on Kauai is getting them out of this swirling thing that’s waiting for them.”
On a recent day at Kauai Underground Arts, known as KUGA, 4- and 5-year-old kids were painting with their feet, dancing to music on paint-covered white paper on the floor. Later, they got their groove on in Metzger’s hop-hop class, where they learned to whip and nae nae to the popular hop-hop jam by Silento.
“If you step out and try something different, you’ll see that there are more opportunities out there for you and you’ll take them,” Metzger said. “That’s the whole purpose of KUGA — saying there’s other things out there. The world has a lot to offer.”
KUGA teaches visual arts and dance to kids as young as 2, as well as adults. Visual arts classes focus on painting, drawing and printmaking. Dance classes feature contemporary dance, jazz, hip-hop and raga, which is a Jamaican dance hall style of dance available for teens and adults.
Metzger said KUGA opened 10 years ago because there was a need for a hip-hop teacher on Kauai. Everything that the studio teaches sprang from that first hip-hop class.
“On Hawaii, we have our own hip-hop culture without being related to New York,” Metzger said. “We’re breakdancing here, and we have our own style of rap and poetry here. We have graffiti art, it’s just not on a subway, it’s in a different setting.”
When she was growing up on the island, Metzger discovered hip-hop and fell in love with the culture. She learned from local dancers who are now dancing in battles on the Mainland. So now she’s passing that culture on to others.
“I realized so many kids want to learn how to do this and nobody was doing it,” Metzger said. “So I linked up with two other girls that were really passionate about dancing and we started doing it together.”
In addition to weekly classes, KUGA provides dance camps during school breaks throughout the year, and hosts the annual Love Life Creative Festival in May.
“It’s going to be our eighth year next May, and that specific event is purposed to create a drug-free and suicide-free culture on Kauai,” Metzger said. “So we work from January to May to develop a showcase to demonstrate a love for love through creative arts.”
The festival brings an urban flavor to the island and features dancing and visual arts, rap and slam poetry battles, and performances from established hip-hop crews who also do workshops for those looking to hone their skills.
“So there’s the exposure and the education,” Metzger said. “Kids can see people who have incredible skills and if they want to do it, they have the opportunity to learn. Those are the tools that we feel will help create this culture. This is drug- and suicide-free.”