Hawaii's French Connection: A Hula Halau in Paris
If you missed other stories in the French Connection series, links are below.
PARIS, France (HawaiiNewsNow) - Over the last twenty years hula has had a home in Paris, France. Today there are more than thirty active members in Hula Halau O Manoa. Hawaiian history, language, song and dance are taught halfway across the world.
Kumu hula Kilohana Silve was a Hawaii transplant in France, bringing the heart of hula to the City of Light. One of her alaka'i explains, "In France there's a lot of Tahitian dances that can be seen, they perform, but we're the only one's to actually dance hula."
Some of the dancers have never even been to Hawaii. Yet their passion for hula is evident. Ten-year-old Tiffany Verdier says "I like everything, the costumes, the dances, the songs, just everything!"
I asked Eva Eric when she started dancing hula, she said "When I was in the tummy of my mommy." Her mom explains, "I would be sitting next to our kumu and she would play the ipu and every time she would do the hela my daughter would kick in the rhythm."
They have kupuna and keiki as young as four in the halau. Little Eva's first actual hula steps were at 16-months."She was watching the Merrie Monarch Festival on You Tube and she tried to do the uwehe," said her mom, Alex.
As in most halau, ohana is a central theme. Hawaiian history, chants and language are also emphasized. Kumu Kilohana Silve explains further, "The history is an important part of our teaching in Paris because it's so far away. It's such a different culture and so as a part of hula training they receive a lot of stories, a lot of hands on work." In fact, this summer members of the halau underwent an intensive Hawaiian language workshop.
"Starting from even after the first class some of us realized that we understood so much more of the different chants," said Beatrice.
"It was very moving, it's amazing to see these women emailing each other in olelo Hawaii," said Kilohana.
Two years ago, the halau traveled to Hawaii for the World Invitational Hula Festival.They won the George A.K. Holokai Aloha Award and earned a lot of respect.Their journey was featured in a French documentary. Even local kumu hula were impressed, "You have the mana. It's very touching to see people from a country so far away embracing my culture but most of all to see the love," said Kumu Hula Lehua Matsuoka.
A love that grew deeper as hula-dancing Parisians discovered Hawaii for the very first time. "I'm always moved to see how they react to see the different scenes and places that they dance about.We see it from a different view from a general tourist, everything has a meaning to us," said Beatrice.
This year, they're back. Tonight Halau Hula O Manoa will take the stage at the Waikiki Shell. "We will have a hula kane and a wahine solo, please come and cheer us on. Hula is alive and well in Paris and we try to stay very close to the tradition and values and to live them even far far away on the other side of the planet,"said Kumu Hula Kilohana Silve. Her daughter Leilani sums it up well, "We do everything from the heart and you know we might not be the best dancers but we really do it with a lot of Aloha."
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