Halau set to make Merrie Monarch debut, but their kumu is no stranger to the event

Since 1988, Kumu Hula Shelsea Ai has been to every Merrie Monarch.
Published: Apr. 21, 2022 at 4:26 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 22, 2022 at 12:48 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Since 1988, Kumu Hula Shelsea Ai has been to every Merrie Monarch.

“As a child I was 4 years old with my family, with my mom and dad ― Howard and Olana Ai ― and every year I was by their side,” Ai said.

“1997 was my first year as a dancer, 20 years ago I ran for Miss Aloha Hula.”

This year, she’ll be extending the legacy of her family’s group, Halau Hula Olana, with her own.

“I never thought that this day was going to come,” said Ai.

“I just assumed that I would always be Howard and Olana’s daughter and I would do as they said, but my mom encouraged me to begin on my own and to start a legacy for my children.”

Halau Lilia Makanoe is set to make its debut at the coveted hula competition in Hilo.

“My mom named me Lilia for the Easter Lily, which is a symbol of purity of goodness, and so that’s what I hope to represent,” she said.

“To be that and with the Makanoe, the mist, caped over us, protecting us, I hope that we will be able to honor our kupuna and the history and the stories of our land to the best of our abilities.”

Some of the ladies have participated in the coveted competition before, but for Chabris Valencona, this will be her first time dancing in the “Olympics of hula.”

“When she first announced we were going to go to Merrie Monarch, I felt so excited because I’d never gone there yet,” she said.

“I’m just really excited to dance alongside all of my hula sisters for the first time.”

One of her hula sisters is Kumu Shelsea’s daughter.

“Really proud of not only my mom, but my entire lineage,” said Teya Jean Apana.

“Every generation that has come up to this point because it brought us all together and it really brings me back to my ancestors.”

The halau will be entering the group and soloist competition, with Renee Tataipu representing as their first Miss Aloha Hula contestant.

“I feel like this is another branch and another path that we can learn more under the direction of our kumu,” said Tataipu. “I feel like it’s such a privilege and an honor because it’s from a different perspective, but also honoring our teachers from before.”

Ai added: “I have watched them grow from young children into beautiful, talented, integral young women, and every moment I am proud of them, in every struggle I am proud of them, and every lesson I am proud of them, because they wake up every morning and they don’t give up.”

“They keep pushing forward and that’s what they’re going to do on that stage. They’re going to be their best selves. And that’s what the journey was all about.”

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