When my first Nia teacher retired a scant year after I started to do Nia, leaving me bereft, I had great epiphany at age 47: I was born to dance, and perhaps everyone else is, too. Hokey as that may sound, I came to realize how much more than a mere calorie-burning activity dance is for me. My life course altered and set me on a path to find a missing part of my people.
I was in Santa Barbara, California, at the time, and I attended the lecture of a gentleman named Barry Brailsford. This white New Zealander had been inducted into the oldest Maori tribe, and they had taught him their collective story, going back over 50 generations – an ancient lineage. He explained to us at the lecture that even if we didn’t know much of our blood ancestry, we could still trace our lineage by what we love.
“How can I find the People of the Dance?” I asked him.
He leaned forward and answered, “The secret of the dance is held by the women of Hawaii.” That’s without my telling him that I was living part time on Oahu!
Returning to the islands, I set out on my search and encountered several kumu hula, traditionally trained in the ancient Hawaiian dance form. I endeavored to learn from them, but for whatever reason, their doors remained closed to me.
Like a lonely little petunia in a pumpkin patch, I was bumbling through life as a newcomer on the island… except for when I would come to Nia class. There I felt friendship and had fun. And there I met Sharlene Bliss, a fellow Nia teacher who had grown up in Waimanalo. Shar’s free-spirited approach to Nia taught me how to play again, dancing like a little child. And whenever another teacher walked into Shar’s class, she would invite them to co-teach with her. There was no competition, no calculation. It was just “Come play together!” Shar has taught me the pure JOY of dance.
I eventually choreographed my own Nia routine to wonderful Hawaiian music, getting counsel from a kumu hula that I should get permission from the musicians to dance to their music. Mihana Sousa was the recording artist of several of the songs I had choreographed. A mutual friend gave me Mihana’s phone number, and I got up the nerve to call to this well-known singer… Gulp! Here’s me, little blond haole girl, asking to do non-hula to ‘Hula Rock Mama’ and to ‘Chucky’s in the kitchen cookin’ terriaki chicken’…
“Uh, aloha…Mihana? This is Eunice’s friend Renée who does Nia…”
“RENÉE?!?! Oh, I hear you’ve been dancing to my songs!”
“Well, we’re just practicing so far…” I stuttered.
“I think that’s just WONDERFUL! Mahalo for choosing my music! I feel so blessed! I would love to come dance with you!”
And she did. She came to dance at the debut of my Hawaiian Nia routine. To this day, Mihana graciously serenades our table at Duc’s Bistro any Thursday night that I take Nia friends to dine and dance to her live music. She also plays for guests who feel inspired to dance hula to songs they know. Mihana has taught me the GENEROSITY of sharing dance.
Mālia Helela danced into my life about three weeks before we opened Still & Moving Center. I originally found her charming the little children, brown-eyed and blue-eyed, in her baby hula class just as if she were the Pied Piper. Here was a kumu hula who welcomed and embraced everyone and I hired her immediately! Since that time, Malia has taught hula here at Still & Moving Center to thousands of people of every age from around the world, and I am fortunate to count myself as one of her grateful students.
Mālia opens each of us to grace: grace in dance and in life. She has taught us that the divine is all around us, in the wind and the trees, the flowers, the sea and in each of us. As one of my fellow hula students said recently, “When we dance hula, we can hold no ill will in our hearts. We are dancing all of these sacred things in nature, so we rise up to that.” As we dance our love of nature, of the ‘aina, we share our love, our aloha. Through her universal welcome, Malia teaches the ALOHA of dance.
These dear women of the dance – Shar, Mihana and Malia – all participated in the grand opening of Still & Moving Center. They continue to be part of its lifeblood, and I continue to follow their footsteps in the dance of life. Barry Brailsford was prophetic in pointing me to my dance lineage, the women of Hawaii who beautifully share true secrets of dancing: the Joy, the Generosity and the Aloha.
Dancing in Joy and resting in Stillness with you,
And you, dear reader?
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