‘There’s no do-overs’: Here’s what it takes to win prestigious Miss Aloha Hula title

Running for the coveted title of Miss Aloha Hula is not for the faint of heart.
Published: Apr. 17, 2023 at 10:18 AM HST|Updated: Apr. 17, 2023 at 10:21 AM HST
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HILO (HawaiiNewsNow) - Running for the coveted title of Miss Aloha Hula is not for the faint of heart.

For contestants like Miss Aloha Hula 2003 Jennifer Oyama Kemfort, that meant practicing through knee pain from enflamed tissues.

“There’s no other questions, just get me to that stage, get me to practice,” recalled Oyama Kemfort, who won the title under the direction of her Kumu Hula Sonny Ching and Lopaka Igarta DeVera of Halau Na Mamo ‘O Pu’uanahulu.

For Miss Aloha Hula 1983 Geola Pua, a student of late Kumu Hula Johnny Lum Ho and Halau O Ka Ua Kani Lehua, there was no such thing as sick days.

“I got really, really, really sick the week before Merrie Monarch,” said Pua. “I had really bad asthma, bronchitis and he said get on stage. I thought, but I’m dying.”

In addition to learning two dances, each contestant must memorize an oli or chant.

“I even remember doing my oli and thinking I missed a part,” said Miss Aloha Hula 2013 Manalani English Souza, a student of Kumu Hula Napua Greig and Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka.

Kumu Hula Maelia Loebenstein-Carter, who is celebrating her 30th anniversary since winning the title under the direction of her Kumu Hula ― and grandmother ― Mae Ulalia Long Loebenstein, says performing on live television was another added pressure.

“The year that I entered, it was the first year that it was live,” said Loebenstein-Carter. “There’s no do-overs, you can’t edit a clip.”

SPECIAL SECTION: Merrie Monarch Festival

When Geola Pua entered in 1983, she had big shoes to fill.

Her hula sisters won the prestigious title in 1980, 1981 and 1982.

“There’s three who won,” said Pua. “I thought, oh my gosh, lord. I went home and prayed about it, prayed about it and he said, now is your time.”

Miss Aloha Hula 1973 Kalani Kalawa won the title 50 years ago under the direction of her Kumu Hula Luka and Louise Kaleiki.

She still remembers how the roaring cheers from the crowd disappeared while performing.

“When I was on the floor, it was like nobody was there,” said Kalawa. “I just danced for my kumu. It’s just such a wonderful feeling. It is so exciting, it really is.”

Preparation for the competition begins months — even years — before heading to Hilo.

Miss Aloha Hula 2013 Manalani English Souza, a student of Kumu Hula Napua Greig and Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka, said she started dancing when she was 9.

“Being at halau every day for practice and chanting, being with your hula sisters and really just getting to that level of hula just being your life,” she said.

Loebenstein-Carter says the moment on stage goes by in a flash. “If you ask me what were all of the feelings I was going through, I couldn’t tell you because it happened in the blink of an eye,” she said.

After dedicating countless hours of practice and giving their blood, sweat and tears to prepare for the competition, the ladies say it was all worth it when they heard their name called as the winner.

“All the important things in my life flashed in my mind,” said English Souza.

“My family, my kumu, our moku, Maui. It was just a proud moment. Although they say my name, I think about all those things because, sure, it was me on stage but I’m just the vessel.”

“We did a performance and it was done,” added Kalawa. ”The next thing you know I was already changed into my regular clothing and they said, ‘oh, you’re Miss Hula!’ And I said, ‘no!’”

[RELATED: Meet Miss Aloha Hula 2023: Agnes Renee Leihiwahiwaikapolionāmakua Brown]

The ladies say they still give thanks to their kumu hula for the opportunity to compete.

“Thank you for loving me and picking me and trusting me,” said Loebenstein-Carter.

“Thank you for it all. There’s no greater gift I could have had in this life than to be her granddaughter.”

“Thank you for seeing the Miss Aloha Hula in me from small kid time,” added Oyama Kemfort. “There’s no words to thank them for what they’ve done for me, my family, friends and the rest of their halau, too.”

“I praise God and I thank God for Uncle Johnny,” said Pua. “The things that he has taught me in life, you know, to give without expecting to receive, always stay humble, always.”