By Malika Dudley - bio | email
HILO, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Merrie Monarch Festival starts Thursday, but Wednesday night a halau from a far away land takes the stage. They were invited to dance after winning a prestigious hula competition in Japan.
The hoike takes place Wednesday night on the Merrie Monarch stage. Among several local halau is a standout from Shibukawa, Japan, Halau Na Mamo o Kaleinani. Their sensei, Seiko Okamoto learned from Hawaii's own kumu hula, Aloha Dalire.
"I worked with this halau for about 20 years. They really take it seriously, they love hula so much, and I'm happy for them, that they're able to be here and share their hula with everyone" said Dalire.
Seiko started dancing hula at the age of 15 while going to school at HPA in Waimea. The rest was history. With over two decades of practice under her belt, she started her own halau 13 years ago.
"We try to follow the tradition and not try to be Japanese like" said Okamoto.
She says just being on the stage, she's seen a transformation in her wahine.
"Overwhelming, they're so excited and they look much better in their facial expression, when they practice in Japan they look more Tokyo-looking, but now they look really, really Hawaiian."
The reason they're here, is unique. Hilo's sister city in Japan, started the first and only hula event endorsed by the Merrie Monarch Festival. The Ikaho Hawaiian Festival hosts hula dancers from across Japan.
"They just send out invitations to everybody, and they had like 10,000 hula dancers, I promise you, I couldn't believe it" said Dalire.
Every four years, Ikaho also holds a hula competition. The winner gets to grace the Merrie Monarch stage.
"And for the Japanese I know it's really, really overwhelming for them because dancing on that stage right there is the epitome of learning hula for them."
This year sensei Seiko's wahine and kupuna both won the kahiko division.
"All they could say was, not that they won the competition, was we're going to Merrie Monarch!" said Dalire.
And they brought their band with them too.
"One of the rules is you have to used a Japanese group, you cannot use a Hawaii group to sing for you."
Piano, two guitars, and a vocalist.
"Vocalist learn the Hawaiian language, like pronunciation" said pianist Ryuta Yamamoto.
"I was blown away, because they sounded so nice" said Dalire.
This year is especially special as they perform in honor of Auntie Dottie Thompson.
"I cant wait for tomorrow" said dancer Kyoko Okazaki.
"I think we are good dancers and we hope you enjoy our dance" said dancer Mina Otsuji.