History of Hula Dancing

Hula dancing was a form of dance developed in the Hawaiian Islands by a group of people known as the Polynesians who had originally settled there.  This type of dance is accompanied by some sort of chant or song that is called a mele. When first introduced in the 1820s American Protestant missionaries considered hula dancing as a sort of rebellious dance and was banned by the Christianized royalty and nobility.  But was brought back decades later by King David Kalakaua and his daughter Princess Ruth Keelikolani because they wanted to revive what was left of their ancestor’s culture. Hula changed considerably in the 20th century and was starting to be shown as tourist spectacles.  While there are still some older residents trying to maintain the art of hula as it was first introduced there is a new found interest in modernized hula dancing by many people that come to Hawaii for vacation.

                Hula dancing is the essence and spirit of Hawaii. Initially it was treated as a sacred ritual but slowly was changed into a form of entertainment. Hula has a large range of styles that include two different broad categories that are known as Ancient Hula or hula kahiko and hula auana. Hula kahiko is a type of hula dancing that is accompanied by instruments and chanting while hula auana is a story told by mainly the movement of body and hands. This is the typed of hula dancing that is taught to tourists in Hawaii these days.

                Hula kahiko includes many different styles and moods that are portrayed by the dancers. Many of the hula dances were created to compliment the chiefs and were performed in their honor or for their pleasure. This dance is performed in this day and age by dancing to the historical chants.  The chants were performed because Hawaiian history is known as oral history. Stories of Hawaiian history were passed down from generation to generation because they had a lack of a written language that was the only way possible for them to remember anything history related.  Those stories about creation, mythology, royalty, and certain people were later transformed into chants. Instruments that were used in performances of the hula kahiko were mostly Hawaiian made. The Ipu, Ipu heke, Pahu and, Pūniu were different kinds of drums that created different sounds for musical addition to the performances. The costumes that they used to perform this dance in would be considered unusual today. The females wore a ʻū, wrapped skirt, and were always topless. But today the costumes have been altered for more of a modest look, where as the ʻū might be a lot longer and cover the dancers legs actually and a top that covers their bosoms. And they have also added accessories to their outfits such as necklaces, bracelets, anklets, and the well-known Hawaiian lei. The men also had very risqué costumes they were required to wear back then that only included a malo, or loincloth. Their costumes haven’t changed much in the present day except that the cloth may cover a little more and they have also added the lei accessories.

                Hula auana was created from the idea of traditional hula ideas and Western influences.  This type of dance either tells or comments on a story which could include events since the 1800s. The costumes women wore during this dance were less revealing and the music is deeply affected by Western-influences. The instruments that are used to go along with this dance are the ukulele, guitar, steel guitar, and bass. Each of these instruments plays their own role in creating the perfect sound to accompany hula auana performances. This hula dance is performed at many luaus and celebrations.  Lessons are also offered for girls of ages 6-12 normally where they can learn a dance and be a part of the luau celebration.


I chose to do my research on hula dancing because I have been to Hawaii a few times in my life and taken lessons myself but yet I never really knew where this type of dance came from and why it was created. When I would watch the Hawaiian natives perform this dance it seemed so easy to perform and I thought it would be easy to learn also. But after taking classes I felt like you either had to be born to do this type of dance or have a lot of dedication to learn how to perform hula dancing. While I was learning how to do some of the moves I kind of felt silly just swaying my body and body parts while chanting things that I didn’t understand and at the same time I knew hula dancing was an important part of the Hawaiian culture so I did my best in figuring out the right way to do the dance moves. The personal experience I had with hula dancing made me realize that the Polynesians were really dedicated to remembering their ancestors and the culture behind their lives because they have tried so hard to preserve all those things in the art form of dance which seems really special to me. If I had the chance to go back and learn hula dancing all over again I definitely would.