Thanks to a last-minute change, Saint Louis halau gets its chance on Merrie Monarch stage

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Merrie Monarch Festival kicks off Thursday night and for the first time, a halau from Saint Louis School will be in the competition.

The group is made up all Saint Louis students and alumni and they're getting to the festival this year by a twist of fate.

The young men of Kawaiulaokala entered to be at the Merrie Monarch competition next year, but were invited to participate this year after another halau couldn't make it.

That meant the group only had four months to prepare their dances and raise funds.

Up until flight day, the halau is putting hours into their practices.

Their grueling rehearsals are lead by kumu hula Kelii Puchalski to make sure every step, every expression and every line formation is precise for a song about Hawaiian cowboys on Molokai.

"I really want to perpetuate men's hula in the very masculine and a very powerful style of men's hula that actually derived from men's martial arts," he said.

Dancer Imipono Bumanglag said he's ecstatic about the chance to dance on the most important stage in the hula world.

"I was really excited because I knew how big this competition was," he said.

In the world of hula, honoring one's lineage is important. Puchalski's own hula teacher is renowned kumu hula Chinky Mahoe, whose group, Halau Hula O Kawailiula, will also be in the competition.

Even though the two halau will be competing against each other on the Merrie Monarch stage, Mahoe attended Pulchalski's rehearsal to give guidance to the young men. In fact, he says he wants them to win.

"We are there to perpetuate our kumu and his training and teaching and even though it's a competition, it's a friendly rivalry," said Puchalski.

Bumanglag said he's thankful for the guidance and thinks the halau's youthful energy will set them apart.

"I think we will represent ourselves well and make every body proud," he said.

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