Dork-o-Rama: The Random Thoughts of a Total Goofball

Embracing the Dork Side....Because Life is Too Short to Take Yourself Too Seriously

Monday, November 24, 2008

This is what happens when you play the know-it-all card too often...

It seems I've developed a reputation in hula.

Bear with me here, as I try to explain this properly: one of the things hula dancers have to do is called the kahea before each verse of a song or chant. It's to signal the other dancers and your musicians (or drummers) what the next verse is, so everyone's on the same page. Typically, it consists of a few words of the next line in the song or chant.

The dance we're learning right now is this wonderful kahiko, "Halau Hanalei." It's set to a completely different rhythm than any dance we've learned so far (it's actually a hula pahu), and the move we have to do between verses is very much like patting your head, rubbing your stomach, and hopping on one foot at the same time. So the kahea has to be done while you're also doing this complicated new step to a completely new rhythm. And, oh yeah, each kahea for this one is an entire sentence long. It's the entire verse.*

For example:

"Halau Hanalei i ka nina a ka ua."

That's one line. Chanting it is easy. Not so bad to kahea, either.

"Ku mano ke po'o wai a ka liko."


"Naha ka opi wai a Wai-aloha."

Holy. Moly. (Remember, the "w" is pronounced as a "v." That "wai a Wai-aloha" kills me. Especially since when you chant that line, there's a pause that makes sense, but in the kahea... no pause!)

"O ke kahi koe a hiki Wai-oli."

Quite a mouthful, no? Again, it's easy enough to learn to chant these words, but to spit them out clearly at the right time while trying to balance yourself for that complicated new step...well, hell. And we're supposed to be doing this in unison. Except, so far, I'm the only one who's trying it.

Last week in class, as our Kumu was going over the third verse, he talked more about the kahea and how to do it, and ended by saying something along the lines of, for those of you who like these challenges, get to it.

And a bunch of my classmates looked right at me. Some even said my name at that point. Oh. NO. I suddenly felt all this pressure to perform. I'd already been planning to try it that night, but was prepared to chicken out if I didn't feel I had the verses down. I felt like I was being issued a direct challenge. I didn't realize my hula brothers and sisters had such high expectations of me!

Part of that comes from another complicated dance we do -- only three of us even try to kahea, and I'm the only woman who does it. Often, I'm the only person in the room doing it. It's daunting, requires great focus and breath control, and I'm usually ready to keel over at the end. And I'm loud, so everyone knows it's me.**

Also, one of the women who sometimes teaches class once told us that Kumu likes it when you volunteer to try something first, so I always try to be among the first in the class to go solo on a new chant or song or poem. Takes a lot of pressure off, once you're done...

Luckily, I had the first two verses of "Halau Hanalei" down pat, but didn't even try the third, which he'd just taught us. If I had, it would have sounded like "Naha ka oh fuck...." and that's not really appropriate. Nor is it in the proper language.

I am consistently amazed at the positive feedback I get in hula. I've always figured I was a slightly above average dancer in most of the genres I've tried, but am constantly humbled by how hard I have to work to get it right in hula. And when I watch really good dancers, I am reminded how much I have to learn. Whenever I start thinking I'm the shit, that's when I screw up. It's a great lesson.

What's truly amazing is that people tell me I'm a good chanter. Do not get me wrong -- this is not faux humility here: I don't have a good singing voice, and chanting is a lot like singing, only different (isn't that helpful?? here's a great chanter, to give you some perspective), and standing up in front of dozens of people to chant solo is one of the scariest things I've ever done. I've had to do it several times in the past two and a half years. So when I get praise for that -- even from my Kumu -- and am seen as someone who's developing skills with the kahea and the lengthy (beautiful) poem we recently learned... well, I'm just stunned. Seriously.

But it's added this surprising extra pressure, which comes from me and me alone, because I can't let myself fail when others expect me to do well.

Not that that's a bad thing. I'm just saying...

*Having said that, I looooooove this dance. And the chant. It's fabulous.
**Then again, the point is to be heard, so to kahea quietly would be pointless. Here's one of those few instances where my volume comes in handy!!