Halau Hi'iakainamakalehua is competing in Merrie Monarch for the first time. Tiana Kuni, the halau's Miss Aloha Hula contestant, is honored and excited to be their first ever soloist representative.
"I realize that I have a kuleana, that I'm the first thing that anyone in the whole world is going to see of Halau Hi'iakainamakalehua on that Merrie Monarch stage," Kuni said. "I'm there to make a statement to show who I am and represent my kumu, my halau, our hula family and our hula lineage."
"If what I do on that stage inspires somebody to want to dance hula, learn about where they come from or learn about our culture; I think is the biggest message I could possibly give through this opportunity," Kuni said.
The theme of her mele will be the idea of "home," honoring the islands her two kumu come from.
"Knowing that our theme is home, and yes I know I'm sharing about my kumu's home, but that's also reflective in my feelings for my own home," Kuni said. "We all need to take pride and love who we are and where we come from."
Her hula kahiko is "He mele no Kahilihauwelo," a mele auau or bathing chant honoring the island of Maui. Written by Henohea Kane, the mele explains the ritual where a baby's first bath is taken in 'Iao stream.
"What I love about this mele is she wrote it to share a specific event that happens in her family," Kuni said. "Being able to look at a family's living tradition and being able to share that on the stage I think is just going to be amazing."
Her 'auana is "Kamalani 'O Keaukaha," honoring Hawai'i Island. The mele speaks about Keaukaha, the area where her Kumu Ke'ano Ka'upu grew up. Kuni says the song shares a personal connection between herself, and her kumu.
"I actually was first introduced to this song through a project that I did with my kumu before I started dancing for their halau," Kuni said. "I am so excited that they're entrusting me to put their vision of this song out onto the stage."
Kuni believes one of the most imperative parts of preparing for the competition was visiting the places she will be dancing about. She traveled to Maui and Hawai'i, to immerse herself in the mele.
"It's taking mele from just words on a paper, internalizing it, taking it to the actual place and living the mele," Kuni said.
After months of preparation and countless hours of practice, it all boils down to one night of competition. Kuni plans on leaving her whole heart and soul on that stage.
"My hope for that night is I'm going to do my kumu, my halau, our ohana proud," Kuni said. "With all the aloha I can muster, share with the world who we are."