Hula dancing in Hawaii

Hula dancing in Hawaii is a significant component of the Hawaiian culture. I’m sure you’ve heard of the term “hula,” regardless of whether you’ve even visited Hawaii. A question I get asked a lot is, “So do you hula? Do you wear those coconut bras?” This question typically follows the usual “So do you surf?” The answer to two of these questions is yes, I do surf and I do “hula.” However, coconut bras aren’t common at all, unless if you’re dancing for a highly-commercialized group that performs in Waikiki for tourists. This is everything you need to know about hula dancing in Hawaii.

Make sure you’re saying it right

First of all, “hula” is not a verb, in other words it’s grammatically incorrect to ask “Do you hula?,” the correct way to ask is “Do you dance hula?” The next question is “Oh, who do you dance for?” The hula community is divided into many small dancing groups called “hula halaus”, each composed of 1 (sometimes 2 or 3) “kumu hula” that serve as instructors, and dozens of dancers that follow under their instruction. Some “kumu hula” pass down their heritage and the family name for decades. It’s possible to hire a halau to perform at an event or party, but it’s more common for a family friend to dance at a family event, because in Hawaii there’s a pretty darn good chance that someone in your family dances. Hula is also open to males and females, although it’s more common that girls practice hula, it’s still an activity that welcomes both genders.

Hula dancing in Hawaii

Ti leaf skirts are very time-consuming to sew together and construct.

 Hula competitions

Hula can be a very competitive practice, with several hula competitions throughout the year with some significant cash prizes for rewards. There’s one important competition in May known as the Merrie Monarch Festival. This competition lasts an entire weekend at the beginning of May and is held on the big island (the southern-most island of the chain,) and thousands of individuals come to compete. There are individual competitions and halau competitions. The top title is awarded to “Miss Aloha Hula,” given to the best female hula dancer.

Hula dancing in Hawaii

Hula halaus start dancers at very young ages.

Different types of hula

Hula is divided into two types of hula: kahiko and auana. To put it into simpler terms, auana hula is more modern whereas kahiko resembles the hula practiced by ancient hula dancers, using Hawaiian instruments and chanting to provide music. The Merrie Monarch festival provides competition for both categories, and it’s possible to win an award for one and not the other, however it’s also possible to win awards for both. Hula competitions can get pretty expensive for the competitors because outfits, instruments, accessories and competition fees can get pretty expensive. I once spent almost $400 for a single competition, and we didn’t even do that well.

Hula dancing in Hawaii

Kahiko wear is more traditional.


Overall the hula culture in Hawaii is vibrant and beautiful and I would strongly encourage you to watch a hula show or even try and learn how to dance!