I created this course for women who are looking to take action to improve their health and lives. This course will teach you how to dance basic hula moves, how to maximize the moves to gain the most athletic benefit from each one, and learn an actual hula. The hula is entitled Ka Lehua I Mili'a, and is a classic Hawaiian song. I begin by explaining how to perform basic hula steps, then how to combine the moves to create a workout. I include video of each move, anda video of all the moves together. I then walk you through each verse of Ka Lehua I Mili'a and explain the motions so you understand what all of the hand motions mean. A video of the entire song is included in the end.
In this video I describe the importance and significance of hula to the Hawaiian people. There was no written language, so stories and histories were passed down through chants and hula. Have a respect for hula while you are learning it. Do not just look at it as a cute dance to get fit. Yes, it is cute and yes, we will get fit, but hula is much more than that. As long as you understand that and respect it you are welcome to take this course.
Posture is important, and I will describe it here, but there are some things you cannot describe about hula. Some things in hula are felt and inherent, including posture. I can tell you to hold your core in, roll your shoulders down and back, and to hold your head high. Sometimes you tend to lean forward or backward while you dance and you may not even realize you are doing it. So stay aware of your body placement.
Learn the ka'o, which may be the most important move in hula. Perform the ka'o by standing with hula posture, feet about four inches apart, bend your knees and sway your hips from side to side. Your ka'o will look like a figure 8 flipped up on its side. When you raise one hip, the same heel comes off of the floor. Slowly drop the hip and heel while raising the other; repeat.
The kaholo is also one of the most important and basic movements in hula. It is fairly simple. Take three steps to one side and tap. That is the kaholo! Of course we hold ourselves in the right posture and sway our hips. Often we hold one hand at our chest and the other out to the side in the direction we are moving. Holding our arms up, especially out, keeps the shoulder muscles under tension, and helps to build in strength and size. Also, we usually look in the direction our hands, or dominant hand in that particular movement is moving. While doing the kaholo in basics this means we look to the right when we move to the right and we look to the left when we move to the left.
The hela is possibly the simplest move. Place one foot in front of you. I place it directly in front; traditionally you place it at a 45-degree angle. I do not point my toes or place my foot flat on the ground. I place only the ball and toes on the ground. While you do the hela you sway your hips. When your right foot is extended in front the left hip sways to the left side and vice versa.
The 'ami is a circle with your hips. Be careful, like with the other moves, to keep your upper body still. The 'ami is performed by moving the hips both clockwise and counterclockwise. When performing the basics together back-to-back it is common to dance hula moves in 8 counts. This means it is typical to perform 8 circles with your hips as a set. You then choose to continue, to switch directions or to begin a different move. Keep the feet firmly planted on the floor while doing the 'ami. Do not allow your heels to come off of the ground. Do not move your shoulders, and most importantly ensure your circles are smooth. That means do not have a sticking spot, or a rough spot in your circle.
The 'ami huli is a circle with your hips. Be careful, like with the other moves, to keep your upper body still. The 'ami is performed by moving the hips both clockwise and counterclockwise. When performing the basics together back-to-back it is common to dance hula moves in 8 counts. This means it is typical to perform 8 circles with your hips as a set. You then choose to continue, to switch directions or to begin a different move. Keep the feet firmly planted on the floor while doing the 'ami. Do not allow your heels to come off of the ground. Do not move your shoulders, and most importantly ensure your circles are smooth. That means do not have a sticking spot, or a rough spot in your circle.
The 'uwehe is a move that is very common in traditional dances. It has probably experienced the most, if not the only, evolution caused by modernization. The more traditional 'uwehe is very strong and wide-set, but it has become softened with a smaller angle over the years. There is room for preference, but more traditional songs tend to use more strong 'uwehe and many more modern songs performed by women use a softer 'uwehe. It is done by lifting on foot about 3 inches off of the ground, putting it back on the ground, and then puffing your knees up and out. The amount of the angle depends on the teacher. Like other moves I sway my hips when I do the 'uwehe, but that is personal preference as well.
The lelepa looks complicated, but it really is not. Think of it as three steps and an ‘uwehe. You already know the ‘uwehe so do not overthink this move. Start by taking a step to one side, lets say the right, so take a step with the right foot to the right, then place your left foot in front of you (like a hela) then bring it to the other foot and ‘uwehe. You just did a lelepa. Again it is really just a couple of steps and ‘uwehe. Practice it over and over and over so when you add hand motions you will not get overwhelmed or confused.
The concept behind this can be a little confusing, but the actual step could hardly be simpler. I combined Kāwelu, Kalākaua because I was taught that as basically different version of one move. The move can be performed by taking a step to either side, front or back. You may repeat the step, or do it once. For example, you may perform the move by taking one step forward (putting the weight on the foot unlike the hela), and stepping back. As always we maintain posture.
Now that you know the basic hula moves you can get any workout in that you want. What do I mean? Go to Youtube and stream the following artists
Those are my favorite artists. There are fast songs and slow songs, and you can do the basics the same to all of their songs. Faster songs are better for cardio of course, but the slow songs are really great for muscle toning too. You have to control and engage various body parts in hula, but you have to maintain a tension during slow songs that you do not have to in faster songs. That tension is muscle tension, exactly what builds muscle size and strength. For a complete workout I suggest doing a fast song, slow song and ending with a fast song. The faster songs require you to loosen up so you can complete the motions in time.
Na hoa- Sweet lei lehua
Keali’i Reichel – Lei halia
Keali’i Reichel – Toad song
Remember when you dance for a workout to keep your arms at least at chest height. When your arms are out to the side you are getting the best workout. Try not to drop your arms during the songs AT ALL. If they are absolutely burning then raise them above your head, but keep them elevated for the best results.
In this video I try to convey what hula is. This video explains what hand motions in hula are, and why we do them. Understanding to break a song down from a long confusing song in a language you do not understand to a story you are telling will help you to not only be a better hula dancer, but to actually memorize motions. It is much easier to memorize a story than random motions that you do not understand. I describe how Hawaiians used nature around them to not only tell stories of the beauty of the land, but also complex and mysterious stories that are often hidden and known only by the author. The hidden or true meaning of songs is known as kauna in Hawaiian. Ka Lehua I milia is a song about the lovely lehua flower, however we do not know the kauna behind the song. The literal translation maybe about the beautiful flower caressed by the rain, which causes a stirring in the heart. Or, it could possibly be a story of love using nature as a euphemism, which is very common in Hawaiian songs. Pay attention to the words and the motions and think about what you think the author was referring to.
The first verse translates to, “I have seen the beauty of the uplands. The lehua caressed by the misty rain. Hula is very intuitive. To create the motion of “I have seen” you take the left hand and put it near the eye, while you take the other hand and put it near the eye for your starting position. Because we are actively looking we will kaholo to the right while moving the right hand out to a 45-degree angle from center. Then raise both hands above your head and lower them to about waist height. Here we are motioning the span of beauty. Remember, rather than thinking of hula as random motions, understand what the motions represent. We then take four steps to the right to indicate the mountains, with a dip in our heads each time we take a step. We then make a motion with both of our hands to the left to represent the lehua flower, the subject of the song. Ka’o and circle the flower with your right hand to represent a caress, and then take the right hand up and bring it down to represent rain. When the rain touches the flower, it blossoms. Flow into the kaholo/vamp, which in this song is a ka’o.
When you look at the direct translation for this verse it becomes apparent that the kauna behind this song is a love story. “A token from the loved one that creates a stir in my heart.” Remember the motions are a translation of the kauna. Keep in mind when you are dancing that you are communicating your love for someone as beautiful as the lehua blossom. When you remember that and understand the motions you are dancing you will be a more beautiful hula dancer. To perform this verse lelepa to the right while opening your hands from a together position in front of you at hip height to an open position. Then raise your arms to shoulder height and open them all the way, then perform one long slow ‘ami. While performing the ‘ami bring your arms in to a crossed position to represent love. Also, begin the ‘ami with your eyes down and head nearer the left shoulder, and while your ‘ami reaches your right hip slowly turn your head to ne nearer the right shoulder. Then kaholo to the right and motion with both hands from your chest out, then kaholo left while performing a scooping motion from your knees to your waist and then all the way out in front of you. Then take your hands, left on top of right while doing a ka’o, then ka’o again and switch your right hand on top.
Kalakaua forward with the right foot while making a lei motion with both hands. Most leis stop at the chest, as do lei motions. Kalakaua back with the left foot while making a flower motion on the left with two hands at a 45-degree angle from centerline. The next motion talks about how the beauty of the flower never fades. Keep the left hand as a flower and with the right hand touch the flower and then take it all the way to the right side and then flick your hand. The flick is to represent “none/no/never,” which in this case is referring which in this case is referring to the beauty never fading. Drop the hands to about hip level and palms facing down while stepping forward with the right foot. Then flip with hands over to palms up while stepping forward with the left foot. Then kaholo backward and take the arms from an outstretched motion above your head to your eyes. Then ka’o while motioning with the left hand from straight above you all the way down to your hips. Flow from that motion into the vamp.
To start this verse ‘ami in the counterclockwise direction with the left arm outstretched 45-degrees to the left. Flip the hand over while bringing it in to your chest, ending with the palm facing the ground. It will take one and one half ‘ami to complete the movement. Repeat on the other side, the only difference is when you outstretch the right hand it is already palm facing the floor. ‘Ami one and a half times in the opposite direction while you bring your hand in to your chest, also ending with the palm facing the floor. Then take both arms at a 45 out to the right and kaholo to the right. During the kaholo bring both hands into chest, ending with both palms facing the ground in front of your chest. Repeat on the other side while performing a kaholo to the left. All of these motions are you expressing an urge coming over you to then string love and wear it as a lei. To represent the stringing of love, make a flower with your left hand and act as if you are holding a needle with the right hand a literally string the flower twice during two kaholo. Once you have strung the lei you are now ready to wear it, so step back with the right foot and put the lei on. Now graceful transition into the kaholo/vamp, which is a ka’o.
This verse translates into “An urge has come to me now to string and wear your love as a lei.”
The ending of most Hawaiian songs is called ha’ina. Ha’ina loosely means “this is the end of my story”. The first few motions of the ha’ina verse often represent the telling of the story. After the ha’ina lyrics and motions the verse is often a similar version of the first verse. The motions in the ha’ina for this song are what are just described. The verse translates as “This is the end of my song, of the lehua caressed by the rain.” Common motions to represent storying telling are some variation of one or both hands beginning at the mouth, and then extending outward as if you are handing your story from your mouth to everyone. Because you are sharing your stories do not cover your mouth with your hand. Instead, motion from just below your bottom lip without covering your mouth. In this song we kaholo to the right while the right hand begins at the lower lip and then extends out to a 45 degree angle while flipping over to palm down position. While that is happening the left arm is raised straight up into the air. You then switch or flip everything to the other side to repeat. Then you express that this story is coming from your heart by continuing your kaholo to the right, meanwhile both hands come to the corners of your mouth and then to your chest, palms facing your chest. In the next kaholo (to the left) you then slowly and gracefully push you hands forward, and then open out to a 45 degree angle from the middle on each side. The rest is like the first verse. Then kaholo to the right and “pick” two flowers on each side. Ka’o while making a circle above the flower, exactly like the first verse. The rains comes down on the flower which blossoms as soon as the rain touches the flower, which is when it blossoms. The second time you perform this verse do the vamp as per usual, but then make the lehua motion on the right side. Kaholo (not ka’o) to the left. Then ka’o as the rain comes down, and then kaholo. To end the song step back on your right foot while touching your shoulders with your hands and then motion them out in front of you with your hands together. Gently bow your head.
Aloha! I have been dancing hula for over 20 years, performing for about 23 years and first began teaching about 15 years ago. I competed and won an NPC fitness competition, and then became a personal trainer, certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. I have been a nutrition coach for about five years, and I earned a bachelors in nutrition science. I love teaching people how to make healthier choices to help them fit and be happier.