There are two types of Hula dance. just like there is two types of American Indian art. That would be Pre-Western world and Post-Western world.
The Pre-Western world Hula was an integral tradition of a great cultural, spiritual and social significance. (Again…just like Pre-Western Native American Indian art.)
The Post-Western Hula is a way for American women to discover their hips. Or to look coy. Or to ham it up for their hubby. Or, now that I think of it…a way to be slightly offensive to a culture which spread from Tahiti to New Zealand, with hula hotspots in Hawaii, Somoa, Tonga and other locales.
The Post-Western world American Indian art was produced for sale, at slave wages, by people transitioned to reservations in need of a survival income.
Okay…factual but unfortunate history lesson out of the way. No, wait. It gets worse.
When Protestant missionaries arrived in the Hawaiian islands, they immediately found the traditional dance obscene. First step of learning the Hula? BAN it. By the time of our Civil War, the missionaries had managed to nearly stamp out the Hula on the islands, and believe it or not, LICENSED it so when it occurred in public, it was closely monitored.
The missionaries didn't know about, or didn't believe in, or didn't enjoy women's hips. Especially women's hips which were apparently enjoying themselves. It is pretty hard not to smile when either watching or dancing the hula. The hula was hot. The hula was Shakira on a good day.
(According to Wiki, the missionaries allowed the dance to continue in their OWN little Christian hovels, but denied it to the natives. That too is an old story. )
Am I being too harsh? Nope. The church has a history of banning hip-dances. You want a little "Hippy, Hippy Shake?" Well…okay. But by those cute mop-top Beatles, not Chan Romero, the "ethnically outside" Spanish and Apache man who wrote it.
The real, original, deeply rooted cultural dance known as the hula signifies nature, an ocean wave, a yearning, and a whole spectrum of deep, complex meanings… but the interlopers only saw the hips. I am not sure if the cocoanut breast covering now seen at vacation resorts was part of the original dance, but I don't have to look it up. I don't think so.
Is there ANYTHING good to say about the history of the Hula? Yes. Hula Hoops. The recent fitness craze. The sound of the grass skirts and the brief glimpses hinting at what is within. And again…the smiles.
I collected these vintage photographs of American women doing the hula "ham it up" just to tell this story. See how an image can be worth a thousand words? So can a video. Here is Chan rocking it. Chan wasn't afraid of hips, but Ed Sulllivan was. Look up Elvis. He liked Hawaii too.
Maybe one day I'll tell the story of the slide guitar and what it meant in Hawaii.
Group of Vintage Snapshots of Hula, American Style. All circa 1930 - 1945 Collection Jim Linderman
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