I had no particular expectations when I went to that first hula class. It took several weeks to realize that I’d stumbled onto something that was not your ordinary dance class; I had made my way to a hālau.
Hālau means “long house, as for canoes or hula instruction; meeting house”. Traditionally the training of ancient hula students took place in a hālau with a kumu (teacher) and elaborate rules of conduct. It was, in essence, an apprenticeship, where each haumāna (student) could become an ʻōlapa (dancer). The dancers were dedicated to Laka and trained in seclusion for several years until they had their ʻūniki (a graduation ceremony with special protocol).
When the missionaries arrived in Hawai’i, public hula performances were banned but the ancient traditions continued to be taught and performed in secret. Several generations of kumu hula were successful in transmitting this hula tradition to subsequent generations until the ban was lifted during the reign of King David Kalākaua. Fast forward to the 21st century and we are one of many groups of haumāna all over the planet learning these traditions so that we, too, may become ʻōlapa.