HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - 22 halau from all over the state, and even Japan, will be performing at this year's Queen Lili'uokalani Keiki Hula Competition. The festival kicks off with solo performances for Master and Miss Keiki Hula followed by kahiko and 'auana group numbers by dancers between the ages of 5 to 12.
The beloved tradition is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. It was started in 1976 by the Kalihi-Palama Culture and Arts Society to honor Hawai'i's last reigning monarch -- and to give Hawai'i's youth an opportunity to learn about their culture and keep Hawaiian language and legacy thriving.
Since 1983, the Keiki Hula Competition has awarded excellence for the proficiency and articulation of Hawaiian language or 'Olelo Hawai'i -- through the lyrics of the hula kahiko numbers.
In 1987, a new award emerged to encourage keiki to learn the art of chanting. The winning halau earns the Aunty Malia Craver Hawaiian Language Perpetual Trophy -- something Hula Hui O Kapunahala O Nu`uanu YMCA did most recently in 2013.
"Two years before that we won it straight and before that we could see on the plaque when we got it and it's really an honor. It gives me the inspiration to continue," said kumu Carolee Nishi, the volunteer Director for Nu'uana YMCA's Hawaiian Studies program.
At just 9 years old and without help from anyone else, Reaves Dayton chanted for her hula brothers as they performed their kahiko.
The Kamehameha Schools 6th grader has been dancing since she was two and says she enjoys being on stage.
"Everyone's looking at you. They're rooting for you and once you do it you feel like you're accomplished, like you did something," described 11-year-old Dayton.
Nishi says her students are helping to preserve Hawai'i's historical past.
"We learn the language. You don't just learn an 'oli and not know what you're doing. You know what it means and you've got to use expression. It's another gift to keeping the culture alive," said Nishi.
2016 will be Reaves last year of eligibility for keiki hula, but she has big plans.
"I enjoy having the chance to learn new songs so that when I grow up I want ti become a kumu and I want to teach it to the next generation and keep our Hawaiian ancestry going. We don't want the Hawaiian language to be lost," said Dayton.
KFVE will be airing the 40th annual Queen Lili'uokalani Keiki Hula Competition August 3 – 5, 2015.