Ka Pa Hula O Maui members playfully courted and danced their way into the audience’s hearts to a song that revealed the flirtation between a man and woman. Within the first notes and steps, people started nodding, cheering, whistling and clapping for the opening group Thursday during the 30th annual Hawaii Kupuna Hula Festival at the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay.
Put on by Hawaii County’s Elderly Activities Division-Special Programs, this is the longest running kupuna hula festival in the world.
The late world renown hula master George Naope and George Yoshida, former Department of Parks and Recreation director, started it in 1982, mostly to get the various senior clubs together to showcase their talents and perpetuate hula.
Over the years, the festival has morphed into a giant, much-anticipated event that feels more like a special celebration than a fierce competition. Annually it sells out, with more than 900 people attending, said Kelly Hudik, Elderly Recreation Services program director.
For some, it’s a chance to see family and friends while also enjoying camaraderie with the other halau. For others, especially the halau from overseas, it’s a chance to finally see and experience Hawaii, as well as enjoy the people, places and culture they’ve learned so much about. The best part is always watching the groups’ reactions during and after the 5- to 7-minute performances, seeing their faces light up with joy, knowing that all the months of planning and preparations were worth it, Hudik said.
The two-day festival, which ended Thursday, promotes and perpetuates Hawaii’s culture through song and dance, as well as honors our treasured resources — the kupuna ages 55 and older — and encourages them to stay active. The event’s success belongs not only to the county and participants, but also the generous sponsors and nearly 30 dedicated volunteers who help make it happen, Hudik said.
This year’s festival featured 22 halau from Hawaii Island, Japan, Maui, California, Okinawa, Oahu and Molokai. During each performance, judges Iwalani Kalima, Punahele Andrade, Nalei Kunewa, Buzzy Histo and Joseph Camacho rated the dancers on overall appearance, presentation, hand gestures and costumes. Winners receive prizes donated by sponsors. Complete results will appear in the newspaper once received.
Mary Ramsdell, 73, of Discovery Harbor, has danced hula for four years. A member of Hannah’s Makana Ohana Halau, Ramsdell loves the Hawaiian culture and music. For her, hula “comforts the soul” and “brings inner peace.”
In April or May, the kumu gives the halau the songs it will perform at the festival and the preparation begins, Ramsdell said. During the first two years of competing, Ramsdell was “a nervous wreck.” But she later realized “you can’t see much with the bright lights shining” on her. Now she’s more confident, focusing more on listening for the musical cues, enjoying the moment and trying not to have “a senior moment” on stage.
As a girl, Kuulei Craddick had always wanted to learn hula, but her parents had five children and couldn’t afford lessons. At age 41, Craddick finally got her chance while working at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel. She noticed guests were going to other nearby venues to see a Hawaiian show and thought something should be done to keep the guests at the hotel. So, Craddick begged a musician to teach her and others hula. A month later, she was dancing and performing with delight.
Craddick, a member of Ke Ola Pono No Na Kupuna, has participated in the festival for four years. This year, the 68-year-old Hilo resident competed as a soloist to “Hilo One.” It was about a love, a deep, enduring love, she said.
Every time Craddick dances, she’s “in seventh heaven” and “on cloud nine.”
Hula helped her better understand Hawaiian language and dance, as well as the detail, thought, care and creativity behind each word and movement. Hula improved how she expresses herself. It also keeps her young, as well as mentally and physically strong.
Email Carolyn Lucas-Zenk at email@example.com