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Ancient art: Halau Hula O Moana shares spirit of the islands

By: Teresa O'Hanlon, Placer Herald correspondent
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Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire, is as famous as the Greek god Zeus within the Polynesian culture and her story has inspired hula dancers around the world to retell Hawaiian mythology.

Pele’s most popular legend surrounds the curse she puts on anyone stealing from her sacred volcanic crater on Hawaii’s big island, as the ancient goddess encourages preservation of land, ocean, and nature.

“I was born and raised in Kane'ohe, Hawai'i ,on the island of 'Oahu,” said Kumu, or teacher, Tammy Moana Silva, who recently opened Halau Hula O Moana, a Rocklin hula studio. “I am of Hawaiian descent and have been dancing since the age of 4. I have been dancing and studying my culture for over 30 years. Because I have studied and grew up on the islands, I teach language, history, chants, modern hula, traditional hula and the stories of the islands.”

Hula dancers tell stories with movement and lyrics, and every new dance gives them more insight into ancient cultures. Moana Silva was one of 10 Californians awarded an Administration for Native Americans grant to study under composer and spiritual healer Hula Master Loea Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett for three years and graduated as a credentialed hula teacher.

“I was the only one chosen from Placer County,” she added. “Hula is my passion and it is very important for me to perpetuate my culture.”

One of Moana Silva’s Rocklin students, Mina Lacuesta, has been dancing traditional hula for almost 20 years. She was one of the first to enroll at the Rocklin hula studio. “We are telling a story with our hands and our bodies and then there are times we actually sing while we dance,” Lacuesta said. “There are many types of dance. Tahitian is super fast. I love the ancient Kahiko style because it talks mostly about the gods and goddesses and the stories that the different people have told over the years. Tonight we are dancing about the (fire goddess) Pele. Often dancers use their costumes, with tea leaves and flowers, to show how they give back to the land. It’s very visual.”

While popular culture often reduces hula to highlights of quick hip movements and green cellophane skirts, Moana Silva’s dancers focus on melodic meaning, soothing gestures and chanting to the beat of the ipu heke, or gourd drum.

“I always said if I had a little girl she’d have to do hula,” shared Brenda Wildrin of Rocklin, who enrolled her 6-year-old in the Keiki class and then signed herself up for a beginners’ class. “I would say learning the words is the most difficult because the vowels are so different. You just get more graceful with your movements over time and I just love the exercise and learning new dances. Right now my favorite songs are ‘Hanama’ulu’ and ‘E Ola Pele.’ I would recommend this to anybody.”

Halau Hula O Moana offers classes for all age groups, including seniors and male dancers. Before opening her Rocklin studio, Moana Silva taught for three years for the city of Auburn. She offers new students a free class.

“It is very good for your core, excellent low-impact exercise, while also exercising your mind and soul,” Moana Silva said. “I do love all of the Hawaiian and Polynesian dances, although the traditional hula is my favorite. It takes me back to my ancestors and helps to understand the beauty of this culture and that is why it is important for me to preserve and share it.”

Internationally acclaimed Hula Master Loea Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett will give lectures and workshops, including interpretations of his musical compositions, at Halau Hula O Moana in March 2013. Visit www.facebook.com/halaumoana for more information.

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Halau Hula O Moana 
What: Hula classes for adults and children including traditional hula (Kahiko), modern hula (Auana), Tahitian and Maori dances.  Instructors also offer Polynesian-inspired fitness classes, Tahiti Fit and Hot Hula.
Where: 4561 Pacific St., Suite F