HILO — The Merrie Monarch Festival’s Miss Aloha Hula 2019 is a 23-year-old Oahu woman who’s a trainer at 24 Hour Fitness when she isn’t gracing hula’s biggest stage.
Taizha Keakealani Hughes-Kaluhiokalani from Hi‘iakainamakalehua, a halau in the Kalihi Kai neighborhood of Honolulu, took home the most prestigious title a solo hula dancer can achieve Thursday night at the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium in Hilo.
“Wow, wow, wow! I think I’m still kind of processing what’s going on,” Hughes-Kaluhiokalani said afterwards. Her 1,130 points in combined points after dancing hula kahiko (ancient hula) and hula ‘auana (modern hula) was good for an 11-point win over the first runner-up, Lindsey Kahiehielauna‘ole Miwa Ching of Ka La ‘Onohi Mai O Ha‘eha‘e, who scored 1,119 points.
“It’s an honor, to be honest. I’m so thankful. I’m so grateful and blessed to be able to experience this journey and have kumu who brought me on this journey with them,” Hughes-Kaluhiokalani said.
Kauai did not have anyone in the Miss Aloha Hula 2019.
Halau Ka Lei Mokihana O Leina‘ala, led by Kumu Hula Leina‘ala Pavao Jardin, is representing Kauai. They performed late Friday night, after TGI went to press.
Hi‘iakainamakalehua and its two young kumu hula, Robert Ke‘ano Ka‘upu IV and Lono Padilla, have produced three of the last four Miss Aloha Hula winners — Kayli Ka‘iulani Carr, Miss Aloha Hula 2016, who’s now a Hawaii Police Department officer, and Kelina Kiyoki Ke‘ano‘ilehua Tiffany Eldredge, Miss Aloha Hula 2017.
Ka‘upu, who’s originally from Hilo, was positively beaming as Hughes-Kaluhiokalani danced her ‘auana number, “‘Akahikuleana A Ka Piko” by Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett.
“I told her right afterwards I usually watch judges to see their faces, how things are going, but I just couldn’t take my eyes off of you,” said Ka‘upu. “She poured her heart out. I’m just so proud of her.
“The beautiful thing about her is she just has a good heart and she shares that often, outside of hula and in hula. She’s a good girl.”
Hughes-Kaluhiokalani also won the Hawaiian Language Award.
“All I wanted to do was share my kupuna (ancestors) with everybody — and represent them and bring them to life,” Hughes- Kaluhiokalani said. “And they will forever be alive in my heart, and that is something that I will pass down forever.”