Here is a very brief introduction to the indigenous Hawaiian dance known as hula. It is intended to give you an appreciation of the history of hula and an overview of its many forms.
We include a list of some of the major hula festivals throughout the year across Hawaiʻi, as well as free hula shows and demonstrations held in shopping malls and other locations.
What is hula?
Hula is a very complex dance form unique to the Hawaiian Islands. It is not to be confused with dance forms from other Pacific Island cultures often seen at a lūʻau show, such as Maori haka, Sāmoan fire dance, and Tahitian otea.
Historically, hula was—and is—a storytelling method used by Hawaiians to pass down history and cultural traditions from one generation to the next. Hula was also used to entertain aliʻi (Hawaiʻi nobility ), as well as for religious ceremonies and other important events and celebrations.
Traditional hula is precise and often graceful, although it can also be a very powerful form of expression. You can see hula performed at festivals, lūʻau, shopping malls, and many other events and locations throughout the year across the Hawaiian Islands.
There are basically two types of hula: hula kahiko and hula ʻauana. However, there are many styles and variations within these two broad categories. Either way, hula is always performed barefoot. (Okay, not always. Hula ʻauana performers sometimes wear shoes).
Read more about the different types and styles of hula below.
Haʻa Koa “Dance of the Warrior”
Haʻa Koa translates to “Dance of the Warrior” and pre-dates hula. Haʻa means “a dance with bent knees” and koa means “brave” or “fearless”. It is commonly called the “bent-knee dance”.
However, Haʻa Koa is not a particular dance, rather refers to an ancient style of dance performed by kāne (men). It celebrates the spirit of the ancient koa (warrior), as well as the spirit of aloha and other traditional Hawaiian virtues, including koa (courage), lōkahi (harmony), kupaʻa (allegiance), and mana (divine power). It is uniquely Hawaiian in language, movement, ʻike (thinking), and mana (spiritual power).
The traditions of Haʻa Koa have been lost but organizations today are working to re-establish the dance form. It is not as widely known or performed as hula but it is an important component of Hawaiian culture.
Traditional hula kahiko is the more ancient form of hula. It may be performed by men or women. This type of hula is accompanied by an oli, which means “chant” in the Hawaiian language. As with music everywhere, there are many of kinds of chants: love chants, chants to celebrate, to express grief, for prayer, to recite genealogy, and many other purposes.
Oli are generally of two types: mele oli (chants without accompaniment) and mele hula (dancing songs).
- Mele oli are performed by one individual without accompaniment (neither instrument or dance). A hula festival and other events (first day of school, etc.) may open with a mele oli.
- In contrast, mele hula are performed by groups and accompanied by percussion instruments. A mele hula can speak of actual events or be filled with imagery and kaona—double meanings that can be interpreted differently depending on who is listening.
Hula kahiko dancers dress in earth tones and are adorned only with greenery, such as ferns or other native plants. The mele hula is set to the beat of a percussive instrument, such as an ipu heke (a double gourd drum).
Schools teaching this traditional form of hula are called hālau. Hula kahiko is taught with dedication and discipline to be performed in exactly the same way each time, preserving the history and stories as originally intended. There is no improvisation in hula kahiko. However, there are also new mele and hula being composed today.
In the YouTube video below you can see an example of hula kahiko. This YouTube video features kāne (men) performing hula kahiko at the 2019 Merrie Monarch Festival in Hawaiʻi. Notice the traditional kapa garments (also known as “tapa”, a cloth made from trees).
Hula ʻauana is the more modern dance form and means “to wander”. This style of hula may be performed with lyrical songs in English or Hawaiian, and accompanied by melodic musical instruments such as the ʻukulele or steel guitar.
Costumes and adornments are colorful and varied. There have been cellophane and raffia hula skirts, muʻumuʻu and holokū (a elegant muʻumuʻu with a long train), and ti leaf skirts with colorful tops, to name a few variations.
Here is an example of a hula ʻauana. This YouTube video features wahine (women) performing hula ʻauana at the 2019 Merrie Monarch Festival in Hawaiʻi. Compare the song and instrumentation with the more traditional kahiko form.
Where to see hula in Hawaiʻi
Here are some of the free public hula shows occurring regularly around the Hawaiian Islands. Find upcoming hula shows in our calendar list below.
Free Hula Shows
Free hula shows are regularly offered at shopping malls and events across Hawaiʻi. Due to health and safety restrictions, these free shows have been on hiatus. When free hula shows become available, we’ll add free hula shows to our calendar.
Oʻahu: Ala Moana Shopping Mall Center Stage presents a Hula Show daily from 1:00-1:20pm and features dancers showcasing hula kahiko and modern hula ʻauana.
Oʻahu: Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center hosts hula performance every Sunday from 5:30 PM to 6:30 PM in The Royal Grove.
Oʻahu: Waikīkī Beach Walk shopping & entertainment district hosts regular shows on their stage. Dates, times, performances and activities are subject to change without notice – weather permitting.
Oʻahu: Waikiki Kuhio Beach Hula Show (weather-permitting) at Kalakaua & Uluniu Ave on Tues-Thurs-Sat. Feb-Oct: 6:30-7:30 p.m. Nov-Jan: 6:00-7:00 p.m. An hour-long authentic Hawaiian hula show opens with torch lighting and traditional blowing of the conch shell.
Hawaiʻi: Queens’ Marketplace Hawaii Resort Calendar lists a Free Weekly Hula Show every Wednesday from 6:00 to 7:00 pm in the Coronation Pavilion. Performed by a local halau features both kahiko (traditional) and modern hula. Experience the dancers up close and personal as they perform this intricate ancient art of dance and chant in a comfortable outdoor setting.
Hawai’i: The Volcano Art Center on the Big Island regularly hosts performances and workshops in Hula Arts at Kīlauea. More info: https://volcanoartcenter.org/hula-arts/
Another place to see hula are at annual hula competitions and festivals. Listed below are some of the major hula festivals throughout Hawaiʻi.
Hula Festivals in Hawaiʻi
Merrie Monarch Festival
Merrie Monarch Festival is Hawaii’s premier hula festival. Since 1963, the week-long festival in Hilo has been a showcase for the perpetuation, preservation, and promotion of Hawaiian culture. Through this festival, thousands of people at home in the islands and throughout the world can learn about the history and culture of Hawaiʻi.
The highlight of the festival is a world-renowned three-day hula competition featuring some of the best hālau hula (hula school) from Hawaiʻi and the continental United States. When: spring. Ticket request forms are usually accepted starting in December. More info: Merrie Monarch Festival
2022 Merrie Monarch Festival
The week-long Merrie Monarch Festival runs APRIL 18th-23rd, 2022. However, the annual hula festival is not completely back to business as usual. A limited number of tickets are available for hālau and a few tickets for longstanding supporters of the festival. Tickets will not be available to the general public due to this year’s capacity limitations.
Kamehameha Festival is part of the Kamehameha Day celebration that was established in 1871 as the national holiday of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. Kamehameha Day pays tribute to Kamehameha the Great (c. 1758-1819), Hawaii’s first King who united the all of the Hawaiian Islands in 1810.
The Festival serves to protect, preserve, and perpetuate Hawaiian culture. It features traditional Hawaiian dance, chant, culture, arts & crafts, and of course food. When: June 11, also known as Kamehameha Day on Mokuola (aka Coconut Island) in Hilo. More info: Kamehameha Festival
- The 2020 AND 2021 Kamehameha Festivals were cancelled.
Nā Hula Festival
Hawaii’s longest running annual non-competitive hula event, the 2-day Nā Hula Festival is hosted by the City and County of Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) at Honolulu’s Kapi‘olani Park. Admission is FREE. More info: Na Hula Festival | Facebook
2021 Nā Hula Festival
The 80th Annual Nā Hula Festival can be seen virtually on YouTube every sunday in August. The Royal Hawaiian Band and five hālau will be sharing their talents in new videos, along with five videos from the 2014 Nā Hula Festival. More info: http://www.honolulu.gov/rep/site/dpr/nahula_docs/Na_Hula_Flyer_2021.pdf
Prince Lot Hula Festival
Moanalua Gardens Foundation (MGF) has presented the Prince Lot Hula Festival since 1978. It is Hawaii’s largest non-competetiveHula Festival. The festival honors Prince Lot Kapuāiwa, who helped reprise hula in Moanalua and reigned as Kamehameha V from 1863 to 1872.
MGF is committed to preserving and perpetuating the native culture and environment of Hawaiʻi through stewardship of Kamananui Valley and celebration of the Prince Lot Hula Festival. When: Fall
Virtual: 2021 Prince Lot Hula Festival
The 2021 Prince Lot Hula Festival is scheduled to be televised Thursday, October 28, 2021 on KHON2. More info: 2021 Prince Lot Hula Festival | Moanalua Gardens Foundation
Virtual: 2020 Prince Lot Hula Festival
The 2020 Prince Lot Hula Festival was live streamed on KHON2 and also presented on KHON’s YouTube channel and Moanalua Gardens | Facebook. This first-ever virtual festival was filmed in compliance with State and County COVID-19 guidelines at historic Queen Emma Summer Palace. The 2020 festival features eleven hālau hula, showcasing a mixture of kahiko and ʻauana dances. More info: 2020 Prince Lot Hula Festival. Watch it here:
Where to learn hula
To learn hula, find a hula hālau (hula dance school) that is accepting new students. Some restrict classes to keiki (children), or girls (kaikamā.hine) and women (wāhine), or boys (kama kāne) and men (kāne).
To find a hālau, talk with hula performers at festivals and other event or search online for a hālau near you or in your city or on your island.
To get started where you are, listed below are Hawaiian resources for hula lessons online or DVDs (free and paid):
- Hawaiian Hula Tutorials (hawaiianhulatutorial.com)
- Ihula Hawaii (ihulahawaii.com)
- RealHula (realhula.com)
- Virtual Hula Lessons & Entertainment (hawaiihulacompany.com)
Upcoming events showcasing Hawaiian hula
The following events from our calendar include free hula shows, hula festivals, and other events featuring hula.
Thursday, July 7, 2022
Thursday, July 14, 2022
Thursday, July 21, 2022
Saturday, July 23, 2022
Thursday, July 28, 2022
Other events showcasing Hawaiian arts & culture
The following events from our calendar showcase traditional and contemporary Hawaiian culture, including music, hula, history, arts & crafts, and other events.
Sunday, July 3, 2022
Monday, July 4, 2022
Tuesday, July 5, 2022
Wednesday, July 6, 2022
Thursday, July 7, 2022
Friday, July 8, 2022
Saturday, July 9, 2022
Sunday, July 10, 2022
Monday, July 11, 2022
Tuesday, July 12, 2022
Wednesday, July 13, 2022
Thursday, July 14, 2022
Friday, July 15, 2022
Saturday, July 16, 2022
Sunday, July 17, 2022
Monday, July 18, 2022
Tuesday, July 19, 2022
Wednesday, July 20, 2022
Thursday, July 21, 2022
Friday, July 22, 2022
Saturday, July 23, 2022
Sunday, July 24, 2022
Monday, July 25, 2022
Tuesday, July 26, 2022
Wednesday, July 27, 2022
Thursday, July 28, 2022
Friday, July 29, 2022
Saturday, July 30, 2022
Sunday, July 31, 2022
Monday, August 1, 2022
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