Utah Stories

Dancing the Hula from Hawaii to West Valley

The ancient Hawaiian hula dance helps many Utahns move through life with character and grace.


Pomaikai Gaui teaches students  how to Hula.
Pomaikai Gaui teaches students how to Hula.

At the heart of hula is this simple message:   Aloha i kekahi i ke kakahi–love one another. This dance form is as ancient as myth and as modern as a Wednesday night dance class in West Valley City. There are no palm trees, sandy beaches or tropical breezes, but when dancers start to move to the sound of ukulele chords, it is easy to envision the magic of the islands. Hula tells a story through sound and movement.

“There are thousands of hulas,” says Pomaikai Gaui, the kumu (teacher) of the Kehaulani Hula Studio. “It is the Hawaiian version of country music since it tells a story that is heartfelt and about a sense of place.”

Gaui is originally from Oahu and has been teaching hula since 1988. “As a native Hawaiian, hula is an umbilical cord to my home. It allows my kids and grandkids a chance to both live their history and culture and to know who they are in the present day.”

Each Wednesday night at the Redwood Community Center, Gaui leads up to 20 men and women through the hand and foot movements that comprise a hula dance. The warm-up exercises alone compose a total aerobic workout. Students come to the class for different reasons. Sherry Arnold from Centerville is part Hawaiian. “It’s a way for me to stay connected to the culture. Also, the friendship in the halau (dance group) is wonderful.”

Nancy Shaw of Coalville has been dancing since she was four. “It got so I could not do ballet anymore. I have always enjoyed watching hula, and in 2006 I saw the Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo [HI]. I have been dancing hula ever since.”

For Gaui, the dance does not end when the music stops. At its deepest level, hula teaches a person how to move through life. “A true master does hula 24 hours a day,” he says. “The character and grace just become a part of who you are.”

The Kehaulani Hula Studio meets Wednesdays at 6 pm at the Redwood Community Center. Those interested are welcome to attend.

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