So last evening I got to spend time in Waikiki with people dear to me–The Husband Unit, and a colleague and his wife, all in Honolulu for a conference. [Them, not me. Iʻm here for other reasons.] The colleague is a mentor who shepherded me through many doors throughout my career. After an afternoon of sightseeing in which I, the knowledgable driver, drove us through one traffic jam after another (letʻs go to Nicoʻs–via Ala Moana Blvd! letʻs go up to the Pali–through Chinatown instead of Liliha St.! letʻs go back to town via . . . Waimanalo!), they–on east coast time–looked like they were starting to wilt. So my next brilliant move was to bag the King Kamehameha Hula Competition (at 4pm, how many more groups would be left to go on? no way to know), return to the big chain hotel across Kuhio Beach to rest, then go to a prominent free hula show right on the beach. I googled and found out a really really superb halau was scheduled for that evening, so I called The Colleague and effusively recommended the free show as a must see.
Although we headed across the street some 20 minutes early, the site was already crowded, and we ended up in the “standing room only” section. But I was stoked to be treated to a hālau I had followed for many many years.
What we saw shocked me, and gave us much fodder for discussion over Teddyʻs Burgers. (we left after 30 minutes). Because, you see, the featured group was the famous halau, BUT . . . featuring their classes from Japan. Class after class of prettily dressed and immaculately made up Japanese women, many of them fulfilling a lifeʻs dream to perform hula with their kumu in Honolulu. On Waikiki Beach. For some of them, this was even their very first public stage appearance as hula students.
What am I supposed to make of this? I should celebrate the fact that the hula is so popular in Japan that Japanese dancers will go to extraordinary lengths to study and perform it. I should celebrate the fact that Japanese enthusiasm for hula is a welcome economic lifeline that enables so many kumu hula to sustain themselves financially in hula as a full-time vocation. I should celebrate the fact that Japanese students are dedicated to learning hula from the source. I should celebrate the fact that Japanese students are so eager to return hula in the form of their gift of dancing in hulaʻs homeland.
And I do celebrate all of that. My Facebook feed is filled with posts of kumu hula and musicians performing all over Japan to massive audiences.
How, then, might it be uncharitable of me to even think that anything might be “wrong” with this picture?