Hula for the heart and soul

Hawaiian historical dance keeps folks of all abilities on the move

MaryLee Alexander

A half dozen dancers sway with colourful wraps over their street clothes. Don Ho croons through the speakers from a tablet where MaryLee Alexander pauses the music to introduce the next movements to go with the lyrics of the coming stanza.

“It’s all about storytelling,” says Alexander, director and choreographer of Hula Dance for Health.

Ho is replaced by the Korolevu Beach Serenaders singing about Pearly Shells.

“We do this one when we perform at seniors’ centres,” Alexander tells her small troupe.

“They sit there at their tables and they all get so excited to dance with us.”

She’s referring to her advanced group of hula dancers; these six at Monterey Recreation are newbies, learning the ropes of the Polynesian dance.

They’re full of inspirational comments as the session winds up. One lady swears she’s unco-ordinated, completely not evident during the session.

“It’s better than the gym,” says another.

Hula is a happy, joyful dance, easy to learn while seated or standing and participants experience the benefits of exercise while relieving stress and having fun, says Alexander.

“I developed this after I retired. I was a dancer, tap, ballet and jazz. Dancing was a large part of my life until I was 32 years old,” she said.

She spent 27 years working in the provincial government before retiring to Greater Victoria. Then the Saanich resident returned to her footwork roots – honed at schools in places such as London, Ontario and Edmonton, Alberta.

Now she teaches the hula auana, or modern hula, at the Monterey Recreation Centre through workshops and lessons.

“It’s a very gentle cardiac workout and it’s fun. It’s excellent social interaction and what we learn, we give. It’s aloha – we share with the community,” said Alexander.

“It’s a health program. The advanced class, we’re wearing pedometers and they competed with each other.”

One lady stomped her way to a win as she kept moving every time Alexander went to hit pause on the music.

“There’s a lot of research in the health area of music … and if you do music, instrument and dance, that’s getting your whole brain working,” Alexander said.

“It doesn’t matter level of ability, if they need to sit or stand, they’re welcome.”

Four years in now, all her dancers say it’s a challenge, even as you advance, she adds steps or accompanying regalia. Age and ability are not obstacles.

“Some frankly can’t do it (to certain levels), so I have a gentle program where they can even do it seated,” she said.

One couple came and while the husband danced upright his wife enjoyed dancing in her scooter.

Alexander got an email that winter from them as they summered in a Hawaiian condo and the husband needed a little reminder on steps. He was teaching his neighbours to hula and the wife was practicing hula in the buoyant pool.

The smooth motion and lyrical dance also offers a bit of soothing for the soul.

“It’s a gentle way to move emotions out of your body,” Alexander said.

“There have been times where the dancers … it helps them to just be sad if they need, or happy and silly. And they feel safe enough to share it.”

Visit huladanceforhealth.com to learn more.

 

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