These seniors are learning Hula to celebrate Hawaiian culture

SAN RAMON, Calif. — “Hula is the language of the heart, and therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people,” says Desiree Elder, a Hula instructor with the Polynesian dance revue, Island Spice.

“Many people visit Hawaii,” Elder says, “and they think that Hula is just wiggling around. But Hula is so much more than that.”

Elder teaches Hula to all ages, but her most unique class is probably the 55-and-over instruction for mature adults taught at San Ramon-Alcosta Senior and Community Center.

“The soft, graceful movements are really fun to do,” says Fiona Waterhouse, one of Elders students. “And the beautiful music which evokes everything Hawaiian.”

“This is like a godsend class,” adds another student.

Elder says she particularly enjoys teaching seniors because they’re a very engaging group of people.

“They want to learn,” she says, “they’re not done with life, they want to learn, they want to exercise.”

Many of Elders students agree, Hula dancing gives them an opportunity to move and exercise their bodies and their minds. They often give each other tips on how to learn the dance moves, allowing them to socialize and build friendships as well.

“When we came to this class, we didn’t know each other,” says Haldis Maeda, a student of the 55+ beginners class. “I had to learn all the different movements and what they’re called. And it’s really nice, because you’re all learning together. So it’s kind of like you’re helping one another out.”

Beyond creating friendships, the class immerses students in Hawaiian culture.

“When you teach them about Hula, you just can’t teach them moves and language,” says Elder, “They also learn about basic Hula dance traditions, because there are a lot of traditions that go with dancing Hula. How to stand, how to put your costume on, so there are a lot of different aspects of the Hawaiian culture that get brought into classes.”

Elder says learning about Hawaiian culture and Hula is especially impactful during Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage month.

“People from all over the world go to Hawaii and go there for vacation,” she says. “And then you forget about Hawaii. Hawaii has its own unique culture, you have a place that actually had a kingdom on United States land. It’s the only place that has a palace in the U.S. So it’s a very unique type of culture. And for people to recognize that during this month, AAPI heritage month, it’s very good because get a chance to be more inquisitive about it. Maybe they look into it, maybe take a Hula class, maybe buy a book about Hula, or about Hawaii in general.”

AAPI Heritage Month celebrates the accomplishments of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. Through hula, these seniors honor the traditions of the islands.

“Every time we come together and dance hula,” Elder says, “we celebrate the Hawaiian culture.”

To learn more, and to sign up for a hula class, visit here.

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