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Reina Hoori 祝部玲奈

Enthusiastic Hula Student: Finding the Aloha Spirit



In 2020, amidst a rapidly changing world, Reina Hoori, her husband, and their two teenagers moved from Japan to Nebraska, departing from friends and the familiarity of their home country. An already big transition became even more challenging as the pandemic worsened and Nebraska mandated social distancing, stay-at-home orders, and limited interaction. Reina lost the common ways of getting to know the neighbors that often come with moving somewhere new. She could only offer a faraway hand wave, and her opportunity to find local activities and get acquainted with a community seemed to fall away. 

Reina, a former hip-hop, modern, and jazz dancer, faced a challenge. How could she continue to pursue her love of dance, meet new friends, and feel a sense of belonging in her new home city amidst all the restrictions of the pandemic? Her determination brought her to a very creative solution. 

Accustomed to traveling and living in new places, Reina thinks “out of the box.” She had long dreamed of learning the beautiful dance of Hula from Hawai’i, but had little time while her children were young. In 2016 when she moved from Japan to Germany for her husband’s work, her dream began to come true when she found a German hula dance instructor and attended a hula Kahiko and Auana class once per week for two years until she moved back to Japan. In Japan, she took more hula classes for the following 8 months before moving to Nebraska. As she searched for hula classes in her new home, she quickly learned that hula had not yet reached Omaha. 

Not short of creativity, Reina contacted a friend of her husband’s who lived in Hawai’i and knew a Stil & Moving Center hula dancer in Seattle, Aya Dunlop. Through Aya, Reina got word of Still & Moving Center’s virtual classes that had begun in response to the pandemic. Suddenly, Reina discovered she could attend authentic hula classes in Hawai’i, live and online! She stepped into the opportunity full-heartedly and signed up at Still & Moving Center.
During the first week of hula class, Reina remembers feeling that “everyone knew each other already”. However, by her second week of classes, Kumu Mālia and her students made Reina feel as if she had always been a part of this community. She started to take all the hula classes she could, even some that began at midnight her time, and she tried other Still & Moving classes such as Kaiwa Conversation and ‘Ukulele. The other dancers in class became her Hawai’i friends, and over the following months she saw her dancing greatly improve. 

Experiencing authentic Hawaiian hula has been a gift for Reina. Kumu Mālia’s oli (Hawaiian chanting), and ‘ukulele classes bring Reina an expanded understanding of Hawaiian culture, which further informs her dancing. 

Reina loves signing on to the zoom class each day to dance, somehow feeling a warm Hawai’i breeze come through her zoom screen and fill her house. “I have friends now in both Hawaii and Nebraska,” Reina shares with a big smile during our online interview. “I love moving my body with the aspect of mindfulness,” she says. “I had never heard of mindfulness before coming to Still & Moving Center.”

Before each hula class all the dancers go around the circle sharing one thing they are grateful for that day. Reina notes how this practice has especially helped her through the challenging moments of the pandemic and changed her life. Hearing the gratitudes of her fellow dancers reminds her even more of the beauty that surrounds her. She has discovered that we can learn anything online if we are determined, and she is living proof of this. 

With restrictions easing, the International Women’s Club in Omaha, Nebraska invited Reina to perform hula. She says that as a Japanese woman she would normally feel uncomfortable performing something she is not yet an expert at. However, inspired by the openness of the American culture and her desire to share the aloha spirit with people in Nebraska, she agreed to perform. “Without hula sisters or a teacher here to dance with me, I saw this as a challenge and decided it will be a good experience for me,” Reina explains. She was right. The experience of performing enriched her commitment to sharing the Hawaiian spirit, warmth, and connection to Nature that she feels through hula.

Reina continues to attend daily hula classes, feeling the power of Hawai’i from her Nebraska living room, and sharing her enthusiasm for hula with friends near and far. “I’m so grateful to Still & Moving Center,” says Reina. “I can say Still & Moving changed me, changed my mind, and made me a more positive person.”

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This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)