Hula basics

There are four basic steps in hula.  If you know these, you’re pretty much ready to go.  All other steps build on these.

You should keep your knees bent and your upper body stationary, no bobbing up/down as you dance.  Your arms and hands should be the only parts of your upper body moving because the story is in the hands.

kaholo:  this is similar to a “grapevine” step minus the vine!  You take two steps to the right, then two steps to the left, 4 beats in each direction.  The feet remain in a straight line.  You take normal steps when doing this move, but when you bring one foot to the side of the other, your feet should be no farther apart than the width of a can of Spam!

hela: this move is done in place, pointing your right foot forward at a 45-degree angle as you sway to the left, then the left foot forward at a 45-degree angle as you sway to the right.  This is the standard hela, and the sway is noticeable but gentle.  There’s also a moving hela, with a wider swaying motion, and the feet are farther apart when they are pointed forward.  Whether standard or moving, you always return to your original starting point.

ʽuwehe (ʽuehe):  this is probably the hardest step.  You step in place with your right foot, then raise both heels and “pop” your knees out to either side.  Then step in place with the left foot, raise both heels, and pop your knees to the side.  (In the ancient version of the ʽuwehe, the knees pop forward rather than to the sides.)  The ʽuwehe knee movement should be strong enough to noticeably move your skirt.

ʽami: this is a circular hip motion to either the right or the left.  You make a full circle with your hips; it is not a swaying from side to side.

Other important words in hula:

imua — move forward

ihope — move backward

ʻākau — go right

hema — go left

huli — turn

i lalo — go lower

i luna — rise up

hana hou — do it again

lava — stop

The word you most want to hear from your kumu is maikaʽi — good!

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3 Responses to Hula basics

  1. Debi says:

    Nice article. Just curious about the word “lava”. We use this word in tahitian and samoan dancing to signify that we are going to stop, but I never heard it in traditional hula. Is it just a habit? Thanks, Debi.

    • hulajourney says:

      We use “lava” on various occasions in halau. And I’ve heard it used in other hula settings. So I presume it is one way of signifying a stopping point but obviously my experience is somewhat limited. I found your comment interesting that it is also used in Tahitian and Samoan.

      • Debi says:

        Yeah, when I first started dancing (over 30 years ago) I started with a Samoan man so everything we were taught had a Samoan flavor. Later when I began to have seminars and such in true Hawaiian Hula, the word wasn’t used. We are just lucky to have learned Polynesian and not just a single island…we know lots! LOL

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