Annual club luau draws on rich cultural history

-Photo by Paoline-Anne Abulencia/For the Review

Joelle Cheek

The gentle movement of a hand and a sway of the hip has a deeper meaning when talking about hula dancing.

The Hawaiian club has been working hard to memorize their dances, senior Mallory De Mattos said. They have been practicing all semester, four days a week.

De Mattos, from the Big Island of Hawaii, is one of the dance choreographers for the luau at Linfield on April 19. She has been dancing since she was three years old because her parents encouraged her.

For freshman Cheyne Kaninau, it’s not all about memorizing the dances, but rather what they mean.

“The stories behind the dances come from old stories that children are told during childhood,” Kaninau said.

He will be performing in three of the dances, including his favorite, the Haka.

Sophomore Robert Kukahiko, also in the Haka, said showing up to practice on time is the hardest part, but he is having fun.

The passion of the dancers can be seen in the time and effort they are putting into this year’s luau.

Junior Keala Niebergall-Eltagonde has the responsibility of making sure people stay on task and the luau goes off without a hitch. Niebergall-Eltagonde said she wants to share the Hawaiian culture with everyone.

De Mattos has first-hand experience with hula dancing. She has participated in the Merrie Monarch Festival, where skilled halaus, or dance schools, compete. The halaus perform at different events such as parties, and De Mattos said she performed at a care home with her halau.

She said although the performers are busy, her favorite parts of this year’s luau are the practices and hanging out with friends. She has choreographed four of the dances herself. Two of the four are traditional dances, which consist of mostly drums and chanting, and two are contemporary with instruments and background music.

Freshman Leanna Agcaoili found hula dancing difficult at first. Even though she is from Honolulu, this is her first time dancing hula. However, she does have experience in other types of dance.

“It’s harder than you expect; the moves are smaller,” Agcaoili said. “There’s a meaning to each move.”

Agcaoili said she is participating in the luau to spread the aloha spirit.

Although many of the students performing in the luau are from Hawaii, most of them do not dance at home. Kaninau said dancing in Hawaii depends on family traditions.

“It’s usually an after school activity, in clubs, or it’s for the tourists,” Kukahiko said.

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