A beloved tradition is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. The Queen Lili'uokalani Keiki Hula Competition kicks off Thursday with solo performances for Master and Miss Keiki Hula.
16 young ladies and nine young men will be competing for recognition as the best keiki hula dancer. The competition is open to children between the ages of 5 to 12 -- and over the years, dancers from across the spectrum have been awarded... but one O'ahu halau has an extra special connection to the titles.
Before she became Miss Aloha Hula 2015, Jasmine Kaleihiwa Dunlap was Miss Keiki Hula 2001.
"I just really wanted to show everybody how much I loved hula. When I got out on that stage and I danced my "Nani Lawa'i" -- it was just such a magical moment for me at only nine years old and the fact that I took the title home was a blessing in itself and I still hold that dear to my heart,” said Dunlap.
Only five other dancers in the 40 year history of the competition have won both coveted titles. It's the ultimate goal for little girls who grow up dancing hula.
“For me, I would love to encourage them to give your all if that's something that you really want – ‘cause at a young age, I knew that was what I wanted in my future and the fact that is has now come true is such a blessing in its own,” said Dunlap.
23-year-old Dunlap has been dancing for Hula Halau 'O Kamuela for the past two decades. She was six when she competed in her first Keiki Hula competition under the direction of kumu Kau'ionalani Kamana'o.
"I was honored to win the title of the first Master Keiki Hula and ever since that I've never missed a Keiki Hula,” said Kamana’o.
Kamana'o was just five when he earned the distinction in 1983. 32-years later, he's helped guide nine other keiki to win soloist recognition.
"I think hula will live on through our kids and so it's very special that they start at a young age. I love my keiki,” said Kamana’o.
Marissa Medrano won in 2007. She says watching her little hula sisters perform is inspiring and she looks forward to sharing the stage with them someday in Hilo.
"Seeing the bar get raised every single year is amazing because that just means that the culture is still flourishing and then when they become adults and they dance in Merrie Monarch and stuff - it makes that bar even higher, so I think that's amazing,” said Medrano.
22 halau from all over the state, and even Japan, will be performing at the 40th annual Queen Lili'uokalani Keiki Hula Competition -- which airs on KFVE August 3 – 5, 2015.