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.