Putting the Ho'opa'a Back in Hula

Wahines dance the hula.
Wahines dance the hula.
Photos by Brittanie Shey

Want to see more photos of the dancers? Check out our slideshow.

Houston is probably not the first place you think of when you dream of the Polynesian Isles, but for the past year the city has been home to a halau, or a traditional Polynesian dance and cultural school, run by a man named Frank Keli'i Chang who has 30 years experience as a teacher of the Hawaiian arts.

This weekend, Chang and his halau, Ka Pa Hula 'Umoumou, organized a dance and chanting competition that drew performances from Oklahoma, Colorado and Missouri to the stage of the Stafford Center. The competition was born from Chang's frustration at the lack of chanters in other ho'ike, or competitions.

Putting the Ho'opa'a Back in Hula

"Many kumu hula (that's hula instructors) appear to place a heavier focus on their hula dancers rather than their ho'opa'a (chanters), but they cannot be blamed for doing it this way," Chang writes. "A primary reason for this is ... the supplies and hula implements that are needed and necessary for the ho'opa'a may be inaccessible to many halau due to the high expense and costliness."

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"It has, in some ways, made the hula lose its power."

In addition to competitors from three states, the competition also showcased the skills of dancers from Chang's halau; as well as Desert Polynesia, a dance troupe from San Antonio, and Keola's Hula Halau in Dallas.

Chang's school, Ka Pa Hula 'Umoumou, offers beginner and intermediate classes. His dancers will also be performing at Aloha Fest on October 2 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Landolt Pavilion in Seabrook.


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