Tokie Māhiehie Komazawa 駒澤常恵
Grace and Joy Dancing from the Heart
By Sarah Hodges
Māhiehie, who recently turned eighty years old, feels joy, peace and gratitude every time she sees Kumu Mālia and her hula sisters on Zoom for their weekly hula class. Although she isn’t able to travel from her home in Japan to Hawaii as often as she would like, she feels present on the islands as she dances over Zoom with her hula family each week. We also appreciate her graceful presence at Still & Moving Center whenever she is able to visit. Māhiehie’s kindness, elegance, and her love for hula inspires students around the world.
Though her Japanese name is Tokie, after many visits and time dedicated in Hawaii studying with kumu Maliā she graciously received the name Māhiehie from Mālia. In hula, committed students are often given a Hawaiian name if they don’t already have one. Māhiehie means graceful and elegant in Hawaiian – the perfect fit for someone who moves through life and dance as she does.
At age fifty-five, Māhiehie began dancing hula in Japan. She tried other dance forms such as flamenco prior to finding hula, but felt most at home with the flowing Hawaiian movements. She loved dancing in a group, becoming unified with her fellow hula sisters and brothers in motion. Māhiehie excelled quickly in hula and at age sixty became an assistant teacher at a hālau (hula school) in Japan. Over the following years her passion for hula guided her. At age sixty-seven she began her own hula school in Japan. As she continued to grow as a dancer and teacher, she eagerly searched for an authentic Hawaiian kumu (teacher) from whom she could learn some of the deeper cultural aspects of the art form.
After diligent searching without much success, Māhiehie encountered a nonprofit organization in Japan that assisted Japanese hula professionals in traveling to Hawaii and studying with an authentic kumu. She knew she couldn’t miss the opportunity. Soon, she was on an international flight to Honolulu, filled with excitement and anticipation.
The kumu who usually taught these Japanese students unfortunately passed away suddenly, and the program needed a replacement teacher who could bring the same authenticity that the prior Kumu Poni shared. They called upon Mālia Helelā, now Still & Moving Center’s beloved kumu hula, to continue the tradition of sharing hula and Hawaiian culture with these Japanese dancers.
“Coming to Hawaii and meeting Mālia opened up a world of new perspectives for me,” says Māhiehie. While in Hawaii, she felt the world blooming. She loved experiencing the outward warmth of the culture and a sense of lightness in contrast to the traditional Japanese culture. “Hawaii is a place of prayer, and prayer is so important in life,” Māhiehie reflects. With Mālia’s guidance, dancers learned the correct protocol of asking for permission before entering a space. Māhiehie felt a sacredness in all of life reflected in her experience learning from Kumu Mālia.
Meeting Mālia changed her life. She came to Hawaii to learn authentic hula and received knowledge far beyond just the dance. She’s grateful for the ability to share this with her own students. “Hula,” she says, “is a joy that comes from the heart.” When she dances, she feels it spread positivity through her mind and body. For her, hula has the ability to heal.
Māhiehie continued traveling to Hawaii to study with Mālia even after the nonprofit program ended. Over the years, she says she must have come to Hawaii approximately twenty times. She feels a strong connection with Hawaii from her home in Japan.
Now that her daughter Kapala runs her halau, Māhiehie brings a beloved presence whenever she is able to join in and dance with everyone. She’s especially overjoyed to watch her grandchildren become budding hula dancers themselves. The gift that Mālia and the Hawaiian islands gave Māhiehie is now traveling across generations, bringing joy and grace to many lives.
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This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)