Caroline Nickerson

Sophomore, History and Chinese double major

Photography by Caroline Nickerson

History of Hula

On any given Monday night, you can find Salina Wesley in the Gainesville United Training Center teaching hula classes. Salina accepts students of all age levels and backgrounds; she’s just eager to impart her love of hula dancing to a new audience.

Salina loves hula because it connects her back to her Hawaiian roots as well as provides an outlet for creative expression. Salina treasures the opportunity to “share what I was brought up with to other women who also enjoy it.” When teaching, Salina explains the meaning of the Hawaiian language of a given song (be it historical, geographical, or mythological), as well as the symbolism of the particular choreography she created.

Crystal Sorrow, one of Salina’s most devoted dancers, has worked with her for two years. Crystal loves hula because it “gives people joy,” as well as “preserves a tradition.” Their last song, in fact, discussed Hawaiian seaweed!

In general, hula consists of chants in the native Hawaiian language coupled with symbolic hand gestures and emotive movements. When a song describes a palm tree swaying, for instance, a dancer will generally move his or her body back and forth and make a sign for palm tree with his or her hands. Hula historically began with people imitating the waves, and dates back to the beginning of Hawaiian society. Most early dances praise the volcano goddess, Pele, and feature traditional drums. The guitar and ukulele were only added in the mid-twentieth century. Hula withstood a ban by Christian missionaries, and, after being practiced in secret for over half of a century, continues to grow in popularity in the present day. Traditional schools now teach hula to Hawaiians and mainlanders alike.

Hula is unique in that it allows for both a living history and a new type of creative expression. Dancers can perform a specific historical dance, with set choreography and lyrics, on the same night they debut an original composition. Gainesville’s Salina Wesley works with this model, teaching her dancers her own moves as well as the cherished favorites from her past.

When asked how to best prepare for one of her classes, Salina had one piece of advice: “Leave the hula hoops at home!”