When I was a kid, my dad went to Hawaii for work and brought back grass skirts and shell necklaces for me and my sister. I can remember prancing about the house mimicking what I thought at the time was a hula dance, likely influenced by watching too much “Fantasy Island.”
According to the International Encyclopedia of Dance, the origins of hula are shrouded in legend. One story describes the adventures of Hi’iaka, who danced to appease her fiery sibling, the volcano goddess Pele. The Hi’iaka epic provides the basis for many present-day dances.
On Tuesday, hula dancer troupe UNUKUPUKUPU took to the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium stage to perform ancient dances and songs, rooted in the sacred `Aiha`a Pele (Ritual Dance of Volcanic Phenomena). The group is from the Hālau Hula (Hula School) of Hawaii Community College, Hilo, Hawaii. To experience the particular fiery style of hula termed `Aiha`a Pele, one is trained to call up the fire within the body and to dance until sweat shines at the temples and forehead.
The performance was featured as part of the popular “Homegrown: The Music of America” concert series presented by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in cooperation with the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage. The series, which is free and open to the public, brings the multicultural richness of American folk arts from around the country to the nation’s capital. Here’s a schedule of future performances.
Concerts are recorded and most are later made available on the Library of Congress website. Previous years’ concerts can be viewed here.