Picture a woman who dances. Dances hula, specifically.
Graceful, yes. Expressive, yes. Skilled, of course.
Now add to that the ability to share a true sense of aloha, a reverence for her Hawaiian heritage and enough beauty, class and style to fill a Tiffany store and you have Kanoelehua Miller.
And she spent 2.5 hours sharing with me! Oh. My. Goodness.
Yep, I’m a lucky gal, huh? In more ways than you know!
Here’s the story:
If you know hula, you know of Kanoe. And even if you’re not a hula aficionado, you know Kanoe if you’ve ever enjoyed a tropical sunset at the epitome of Waikiki sunset spots: the Halekulani’s “House Without a Key” outdoor lounge. Almost every night, for year upon year, Kanoe (Miss Hawai’i in 1973) danced the sunset to its sea resting place—to the delight of tourists from around the world.
Kanoe’s special joy is sharing the beauty of the type of hula visitors to the 50th state saw from 1915 through the mid-1960s. She terms this “romantic Waikiki hula” and even has a DVD featuring herself dancing 10 such hulas as well as telling more about how she learned to dance and how she prepares for hula—including costuming as well as a visit to her favorite lei shop in Honolulu’s Chinatown. Yes, of course I have the DVD—and you can get it too (click here).
But Kanoe and her husband, John, wanted to spread the story of hula even further and, in spring 2014 staged a Kickstarter campaign to develop a multi-media, interactive hula “magazine” for the iPad. Early backers of Hula Studio Magazine could choose from “rewards”—and Mark surprised me by kicking in to the campaign at a level that provided a private hula lesson from Kanoe. For me. Not him.
Here’s an excerpt from my review on iTunes: …”there are articles to read, photos to spend time with, music and videos.” The issues have vintage songs to listen to, some short video interviews, historical articles, lessons in Hawaiian language and more—including very detailed hula “lessons” from Kanoe.
I love this iPad magazine and “re-read” each issue, discovering something new, it seems, every time. The lady across the aisle from me on the plane as we flew to Honolulu last week from the mainland liked it, too; she tapped me on the elbow: “I have to ask, what’s that video or whatever it is you’re reading and watching on your iPad? It looks great!”
It took almost 18 months for me to “redeem” my hula lesson, but this November 2015 trip to Hawai’i was the chance. Mark and I headed to Oahu strictly for “my” hula lesson and then would wing our way to Hawai’i Island where we’d continue our vacation.
I was nervous; admittedly. I told Kanoe in email that I’d taken a couple of hula workshops at various ukulele festivals, but didn’t really have a solid foundation to do anything hula-like on my own. And besides, I’ve not exercised a lot (ha!) lately—so feeling graceful, lithe and athletically hula girl-ish didn’t seem as if it’d come to me naturally.
Kanoe greeted me warmly and assuaged my fears. We got right to work. And from my minimal exposure that morning, let me tell you the beauty of hula lies on a foundation involving lots of hard work—and sweat (or “perspiration” or even “glow,” if you want to be a little more feminine). At least it did for me!
Kanoe’s warmth, authenticity and great teaching made the morning fly by. I learned to stand tall, to koholo, to uwehe, to hela, to ka’o—and to keep my hands “soft” and my smile “real” through them all. Frankly, it wasn’t hard to do the smile part—I was having a blast; I couldn’t stop smiling. In every picture Mark took of the session, I simply look delighted. As in, over-the-top happy. Spending time with Kanoe just does that to a person.
To conclude our session, Kanoe taught me a hula, “My Pretty Red Hibiscus.” I’d not heard the song before but, as performed by the Hiram Olsen Trio (the group that backed Kanoe for hundreds of evenings at the Halekulani), I fell in love with it right away and bought the entire MP3 CD (Hula Island Style Vol. 2) from Amazon when we returned to our Waikiki hotel.
My “hibiscus hula” was especially meaningful because my dad, who died in 2013, loved the showy flowers and always enjoyed the looks he’d get when tucking one behind his ear when he came upon a hibiscus in Hawai’i (yep, that was Dad).
The red hibiscus theme became additionally significant within a week…but that story comes later!
‘Want to learn more about hula or Hawaiian culture? Buy an issue (or six!) of the iPad app, “Hula Studio Magazine.” Then you can koholo with Kanoe, too!
And here’s the ukulele tie-in: At the end of our time together, Kanoe shared that, while she plays ukulele “terribly,” she’d recently choreographed a fun, showy little piece to the hapa haole tune, “Ukulele Lady,” and the hula involved her actually dancing and strumming an ukulele. Here’s the link (but don’t expect me to ever give this a try; I just know I’d drop the ukulele on a koholo and bye-bye gracefulness!): Ukulele Lady danced by Kanoe Miller.