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, October 26, 2009

Before I forget...


A few random memories from this amazing weekend:

Spray tanning with one hula sister and then spending the rest of my Friday making a lei po'o (head lei) with a group of sisters who made that lengthy crafting experience so much fun.

The overcrowded, hot dressing room that I'll miss.

The cheers from my hula sisters as my small group left the stage after that special dance at each show. They lined up along a makeshift hallway to greet us as we headed back to the dressing room, smiling, hands in the air in a silent cheer. Awesome. (That's us in that picture.)

The praise from my Kumu.

The hugs and words of support from my friends who came out to see the shows.

The smiles from my hula siblings when we'd make eye contact on stage.

The help from so many people during a couple of quick (and very sweaty) costume and hair changes - my god, my hula sisters rock and I felt so cared for in their hands.

My hula brothers arranging my pa'u (skirt) as we sat in noho on stage, waiting for the second act to begin.

The moment my hula sister Arlene grabbed my hand before we opened the second act at one show and held it, so we could connect (really important when a large group dances). Took my nerves away.

That feeling when the curtain opened on me (quite literally) for the second act. Took my breath away each time.

Watching my Kumu dance in the wings while his students were on stage.

The dancers from the performing group helping us get ready, make quick changes, and cheering for us as we went on the stage and when we came off.

Standing in a circle and holding hands with my hula sisters offstage before we went on for our special dance at each show. I can't tell you how close I feel to these women now after sharing that experience with them.
Standing on stage with all 260 students at the end of the show, especially after the curtain closed after the final performance - no one wanted to leave.

The strange mix of exhiliration and sadness now that it's all over.

The gorgeous crown flower lei from a hula sister, and the gorgeous lei we wore during the special dance, which were then given to us as a gift. I don't want to take them off.

The camaraderie, the hard work, the sweat, the tears, the love... the music , the chanting, and especially the dancing.

Wow. I'm awed by the experience.

Friday, October 23, 2009

He inoa no Lili'uokalani...*

The world works in mysterious ways.

The place where I get lunch most days has its stereo tuned to a classical music radio station. Yesterday, as I was putting together my salad, I hear the DJ talking about the music of Hawaii - apparently, that was a theme yesterday - which seemed odd, because who's ever heard Hawaiian music on a classical station?

And then the DJ said the next selection was an orchestral version of something composed by Queen Lili'uokalani. She was Hawaii's last monarch, the one overthrown by some American businessmen in another delightful chapter of our nation's history. She was also a prolific composer - "Aloha Oe" is probably her most famous song. She is beloved and revered in Hawaii.

She's also the subject of the special dance I'm doing in this weekend's hula performances, which is why hearing that on the radio stopped me in my tracks and gave me goosebumps.

I hope to do her proud.

* that means "in the name of..." and it's what we say at the end of the dance.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

One of these things is not like the other...

So, as I stand in my line-up for the hula performance, I look to my right. There I see a lovely, slender young woman of some mixed Asian heritage who's a lovely dancer. To my left, a lovely slender woman of Japanese/Hawaiian descent who is exactly what you picture when you say "hula dancer" - long, dark hair, brown skin...she's just gorgeous.

And I can't help but laugh. What's the so-pale-she's-translucent*, chubby Irish-Italian girl DOING in between them?? I so do not look the part. And I'm by far the chubbiest girl in that front row, and in the smaller special performance I'm doing. I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb.

This is another reason I appreciate my Kumu: he doesn't hide the chubby girls. There are a couple of rounder women in the performing group, and they get as much exposure as the thinner dancers.

When my dear friend Rebecca first tried to sell me on hula several years ago, I remember her saying it was very forgiving of different body types. But when we first started this journey, I was stunned by how hard hula is. I was soaked with sweat at the end of that first class, and I think we only worked on one step that night, maybe two! There are things we do now that I never thought I'd be able to do. I remember how rubbery my thighs felt for months as we were learning the basics.

And lately, because I've been sick, I've really been struggling - it's hard to catch your breath when you're coughing...while dancing, chanting, and oh, yeah, having some sort of expression on your face that says something other than, "I'm dying." I've been making lots of stupid mistakes in dances we've been doing for ages, often right in front of Kumu - GAAH. But nothing's been more challenging than getting up off of the floor.

I know. What?? I'm doing two hula nohos, or seated hulas, which aren't really seated. Let me explain: get on your knees, with your feet straight out behind them. Now sit on your feet. Now lean back a little. That's the starting position. Now spend three to four minutes dancing in that position, hips moving, going up and down on your knees a few times, while chanting. Do a lot of leaning back to get that full thigh stretch. Now get up quickly AND gracefully.

Shut up. I can't do it. That's a lot of weight resting on top of my feet - that's where all the pressure hits on me - and if I dance properly, with a lot of movement, then that really puts pressure on them. And it's a weird position for my ankles, as they get stretched in a strange way. It takes a lot of life out of my ankles and feet, so they're well on the way to being numb by the time we're done.

When it's time to get up, all the younger, thinner folks seem to have no trouble, while I've spent the last few weeks focusing almost exclusively on that. In one dance, I'm front and center when I have to get up gracefully (with stones in my hands!) and in the other, I'm in that small group and very visible. I don't think I can overstate how stressed I've been over this one detail. I was convinced I'd get moved to another row, or out of the small group because I just can't pull myself up with any sort of grace.

The "hallelujiah" moment came a few days ago, when I was on my living room floor, trying to train my feet to get more accustomed to the stretch they experience in noho, not to mention the weight. The more you do it, the easier it gets, so I've been spending more and more time every day in this position. I finally found a little trick to provide myself more support as I rise. And I've been able to do it consistently since then. And in class Thursday night, I finally felt strong, made no mistakes, and actually felt like I danced well. For the first time in weeks.

Got my mojo back, just in time. It feels good. Still, this morning, during our first rehearsal on the stage on which we're performing next weekend, my mouth went dry when I danced up front because, um, WOW, that's really front and center. Holy COW. But I finally feel ready. I'll let you know how it goes.

*Getting a spray tan on Friday. Gotta do something...!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Hula, hula, hula...

Yep, it's another long hula post, as in my life right now, it's all hula, all the time.

We have a rare performance coming up. No, you're not crazy... we had a big thing just last year. In our halau, there aren't really any performances after the big ho'ike that comes two years into your hula studies. I mean, some of us have been involved in smaller things since then - for instance, I danced at a school fundraiser, and at a dance studio open house, and we go out and dance when Hawaiian musicians are on the bill around town, but there's no big group performance organized by our Kumu.

Later this month, though, instead of the big annual show involving our halau's performing group (it's really a dance company), there's a big recital featuring the students in all the classes (there are four). In a real theatre. On a big stage. People are buying tickets for this one. It's mostly family and friends of my hula siblings, but still... this is a big deal for us. And because our Kumu is known for staging really great shows, he's pulling out all the stops for this - as many as he can with a bunch of amateurs.

One of the great things about our halau is that all students are treated equally, regardless of age, ability, background.... none of that matters. That's part of what makes this entire experience so special - you have hundreds of people from all walks of life coming together to create this lovely, loving community.

Sure, we're all aware who the stronger dancers are, and who the "leaders" of the classes are - the ones who rarely miss, who keep up with all we're supposed to learn, who get involved when there are class projects to be done - but our Kumu treats us all the same. So it was a real eye-opener when the time came to set the lines for where we'll dance on the stage for our performance, because it was the first time we got to see how Kumu and the others who run the halau see us. We became aware a few months ago that they were watching us very closely - they were talking among themselves and pointing discreetly at people as we danced, so for a few weeks there, it felt like an audition, though they never said what they were up to. It was a key time to try to dance well.

It's incredibly gratifying that I've been placed in the front row for most of the dances we're doing. And because he arranges us according to height, with the tall people in the center, I'm front and center for much of what my class is doing. (I'm also the chubbiest girl up front, but that's a subject for another post). It's a big change from the plays and dance performances of my youth, where I always ended up in the back because I was taller than everyone else...!

I'm also one of eight people from my class (there are 90 dancing in the show) chosen to do an extra dance, one of our more challenging ones. This was a shock, as we had no idea he was planning any such thing, and -- I don't mean this to sound like I'm bragging, because that's not what I'm trying to express -- it's a tremendous honor. I couldn't even speak when we were told. At the risk of sounding like a cult member, I'm in awe of my Kumu's creativity and talent, so it's stunning to me to receive what is essentially a thumbs-up from him. I feel very fortunate to be learning from him, and deeply honored to get his approval.

It's also a huge challenge. The bar has been raised. It's very intense working with Kumu in a small group for a special performance, as every little move has to be perfect and we have to really move together as a unit. We're almost re-learning the dance. This is one we do on the ground, with our legs folded beneath us and all of our weight on our ankles and feet, and when you spend a long time in that position, it's excruciating...especially when you get sick and hardly move for a week and a half, as I did...and then go to practice and spend so much time working so hard in noho (that's what that position is called) that you can barely dance on your feet for the rest of the night... and can hardly walk for three days after. I'm not exaggerating!

And because I'd missed the first practice with the small group when I was sick, most of the feedback that night was directed at me. I was so sore and so rattled by the intensity of that session that I couldn't focus well for the rest of the night, which was my regular class. I was making mistakes left and right on dances we've been doing for eons. In the front row. In front of Kumu. For the first time ever, I was watching the clock because I wanted to stop dancing! That was the toughest night I've ever had in hula, and I really started to doubt that I was up to this challenge, and that was a feeling that persisted for a good week or two after. I even had a few hula anxiety dreams.

And then I got sick again (or relapsed into something worse). Only this time, I knew I couldn't miss any more classes or practice sessions, because what I need to do now is ramp up the workouts and the practice sessions so that I CAN live up to this challenge. It's just that this nasty-ass cough I've had has made it really hard to dance well.

It was reassuring to learn that my hula sisters in this smaller group are also feeling the pressure, and we've been scheduling all sorts of additional practice sessions on our own, and they're paying off. Our last practice went really well and we all felt the difference. And my cough is fading so I'm feeling much more optimistic about this performance. There is still much work to be done, and I really have to work my ass off this month to improve my strength and stamina and make up for lost time.

The unfortunate thing about this experience is that some folks in my class have been grumbling about their placement on the stage for the performance, and some are wondering why they weren't chosen for the extra dance (no announcement was ever made about that, BTW - people are finding out because they're seeing us practice before our regular class). I won't lie; I would probably have felt envious if I weren't being rewarded as I am, but I also work hard in hula, because I love it so. I know the dances, I know the words to the songs and chants, I know how to "perform" on stage. I feel a responsibility to get it right largely because this is part of a culture that's not my own, and it would be really offensive to be a hula dilettante. It's nice to know I'm doing something right, but also humbling - in a good way - to be reminded that there is still so much more to learn and so much more work to do.