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Members of this hula halau train like athletes ... and dance like warriors

Published: Jun. 21, 2021 at 5:02 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 21, 2021 at 5:04 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - On the lawn of the Lanikuhonua Cultural Institute in Ko Olina, kumu hula Laakea Perry puts his dancers through a short warm-up.

The men sink into a deep squat and move in perfect unison.

“These men they like to be challenged,” he said.

[Read more: The Merrie Monarch Festival returns July 1. Here’s all the ways to watch the action!]

His halau is called Ke Kai o Kahiki. The all kane group prides itself on powerful performances that feature complex and difficult movements. The dancers make it look effortless.

“We’re always dancing in low positions and moving quickly. You have to have strength, endurance and agility,” Perry said.

The halau is rooted in Waianae and takes its cue from ancient Hawaii, when chiefs turned dancers into warriors. The men train like they’re preparing for combat.

“We come to practice knowing that at the end of practice you won’t have anything left,” dancer Malu Akiona said.

They climb coconut trees to build strength. They run in the sand and in the ocean, carrying heavy rocks to increase endurance and build lung capacity.

You have to be strong to pass the test.

“A lot of guys have tried it out. Then they say, ‘Thank you very much. Mahalo. I don’t know if I can continue,’” Perry said, with a laugh.

The pandemic paused hula, but it gave the dancers from Ke Kai o Kahiki time to focus on their families and jobs. They kept connected through videos they posted on the Marco Polo messaging app

“I said, ‘Let’s keep in touch that way,’” Perry said.

With the return of the Merrie Monarch Festival, the men of Ke Kai o Kahiki have thrown their all into rehearsals. They will repeat the performance from the halau’s first Merrie Monarch appearance in 1979.

“That seven minutes that we’re on stage, we train for it for 10, 11, sometimes 12 months,” Perry said.

A crew from Studio Koa is filming the halau for a hula documentary. In 2017, the same team shot a piece for CNN.

“In addition to being kupuna and cultural practitioners and dancers, they’re also people. You form a bond with them over time,” documentary director Andy Lampard said.

Perry considers it an honor to be featured in the film that will share hula with the masses.

“Our tradition, our culture continues. It lives on and it’s strong,” he said.

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