Hula Heart

Leina‘ala Pavao Jardin will celebrate her 20th year as a kumu hula on Oct. 8 with a special hoike that will showcase the talents of the students of Halau Ka Lei Mokihana O Leina‘ala and feature some of Hawaii’s finest entertainers.

The event will begin with a special craft fair at 3 p.m. at the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall. The hoike will begin at 6 p.m.

Headlining will be renowned musician and kumu hula, Keali‘i Reichel. Also taking the stage will be multiple Na Hoku Hanohano award-winner Chad Takatsugi and Kuana Torres Kahele. Both great friends, Jardin said, adding that she also admires and is grateful to all of the artists performing that night.

“I am a huge fan of Keali‘i Reichel,” she said. “As a kumu hula, he is truly an inspiration and a leader to many kumu hula throughout Hawaii. The level of excellence he shares in the hula is incredible. He inspires us to achieve that level. Reichel’s stature as a recording artist also says a lot about who he is beyond music.”

What does hula mean to the kumu hula?

“Hula is how my heart communicates,” she said without hesitation.

She began dancing when she was just 3 years old, taking classes in Kalaheo from Ku‘ulei Punua.

She later studied with Lovey Apana and her sister Beverly Apana Muraoka. Upon graduating from high school, she attended the University of Hawaii at Hilo and while there began studying hula much more intensely, eventually connecting with respected kumu hula Rae Fonseca.

“That was the moment in my life I confirmed hula was definitely a part of me and I could never dance for anyone else,” she said. Fonseca helped her start her halau.

Being a kumu hula is “a lifelong commitment,” she said. “Twenty-four hours a day your spirit, your soul is in it. You give every ounce of your energy to it.”

At first, she taught hula to the kupuna at the Senior Center in Kalaheo.

“It was fun to work with them. They had different personalities. They taught me a lot,” she said.

Opening the halau for registration has been an amazing experience, she says. “Twenty years of so many different journeys and experiences. Halau and hula are like a novel, all these chapters. You learn about a song, live it and bring it to life. It has been wonderful.”

Currently, she has about 200 students on Kauai and teaches students in Japan and Mexico as well.

“Many come to take the hula, but a lot don’t realize it is a bridge to our history, to our past. Bringing stories alive honors the voice of our kupuna; it brings forth commitment to discipline, protocol and hard work over the years.”

Some students come and go, not realizing how much discipline and training goes into the hula.

But many have taken on the “kuleana” of perpetuating the hula. “It takes a special commitment to do it,” she believes. One must genuinely have this passion about the Hawaiian culture.

“Hula is not just a dance — it is chanting, it is a lifestyle. It really is more than going to a hula class for entertainment purposes. The Hawaiian culture is really, really intriguing and more importantly, sacred.”

Jardin said although her mom encouraged and supported her hula, she herself was never a hula dancer.

It is different for her children. Jardin introduced her daughters, Breeze, 16, and Jeslie, 13, (who are both attending Kamehameha Schools) to Hawaiian music when they were “babies in my tummy. I would place headphones on my stomach. They were born into Hawaiian music and hula.”

“The hula halau has created so many memories for my children,” she said. (The Jardins also have one son, Napali, 7.)

She attributes much of the credit for the halau’s success to the hard work of her husband and her amazing students and their ohana.

“I wouldn’t be able to do it alone,” she said. “My husband, Sean, is so supportive. You never see him out on the stage. He is always behind the scenes working hard. He does the food booth, you name it.”

Maintaining her bond with her students, even former ones, is also so important to Jardin, she flies to Oahu twice a month to meet with her daughters, a niece and several students who attend school on Oahu or who now call Oahu home. She meets with them and holds exclusive classes just for them.

Over the years, Jardin has seen many changes take place.

“The appreciation and dedication to the perpetuation of hula is at an incredible level of accomplishment. I really admire fellow kumu hula who continue the process of learning to better understand and enhance the art form we all love.”

Jardin takes whatever Hawaiian classes Kauai Community College offers to enrich herself.

“Whatever I learn, I can share with my students. We return to school to study, to share, to work together, to deepen our knowledge of Hawaiian history and culture.”

It is good for hula; it raises the level of excellence, she feels.

Today, kumu are finding more and more mele to learn and interpret. At the same time because of the high level of education, kumu hula and fellow Hawaiians are constantly composing and adding to the collection of songs.

“Hula is evolving while at the same time holding on to the traditions of old,” she said.

“It is obvious, the understanding of the hula has gone to the next level, diving deep into old mele and creating new mele,” Jardin said. “One arm holds tight to the past and hula’s history. The other arm is reaching ahead. What is fresh and new today, in 50 years, 100 years will be history for the new generations. It is so exciting.”

General tickets for the upcoming event are completely sold out but a few VIP tickets are still available. VIP tickets include VIP parking, reserved seating and a full buffet dinner.

Jardin encourages people to attend the craft fair which is open to everyone and begins at 3 p.m.

Crafters will be coming from off island, Jardin said. Also, Simply Sisters, a popular Hawaiian fashion company with amazing clothing, Nui Fashions, a Kauai vendor, Lilinoe Mau Loa, jewelry from Oahu and Namiko Kahiko carved wood jewelry will also be there along with many awesome Kauai vendors. No tickets are needed for the craft fair and there will also be a silent auction with incredible prizes all the way to the end of the show.

“So come and shop,” she encouraged.

Tickets for the show will be collected at the door. Hawaiian food and special dishes will be on sale.

“The halau is my family. It is amazing. I have three kids, but I feel like I have such a huge ohana. Some of my dancers started with me when they were 6 years old and they are now amazing women. I feel we really create young women and men who emulate discipline, respect and aloha.

“It’s not about yourself, it’s about helping the next person. Doing all things with sincere aloha,” she said.

Jardin is proud that two of her students were valedictorians for their high school graduations.

“I truly believe that their hula training taught them how to be passionate and disciplined while being involved in schools.”

She is also proud that her halau has taken part in the prestigious Merrie Monarch Festival for five years and has been invited to attend in 2017.

She said it is “really something to see other kumu hula I admire there. The Merrie Monarch Festival has great energy an a wealth of vision all in one place which pushes us to strive even harder.”

“It is quite special to be representing Kauai and Niihau.”

Jardin said the support they get at their fundraisers is outstanding and she appreciates the countless well-wishing messages and emails.

Info: Kumu Leina‘ala at (808) 639-9033.

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Rita De Silva is a former editor of The Garden Island and a Kapaa resident.

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