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posted: 8/20/2012 11:34 AM

Hula Days brings Hawaiian culture to Lisle

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  • Hula dancers and participants in the hula days workshops perform for the public during the three-day event in September.

    Hula dancers and participants in the hula days workshops perform for the public during the three-day event in September.
    Courtesy of Kathy Griep

  • Hawaiian Hula Days offers hula workshops and performances for those who love the culture of the islands.

    Hawaiian Hula Days offers hula workshops and performances for those who love the culture of the islands.
    Courtesy of Kathy Griep


The rhythmic tones of a strumming ukulele will connect Hawaiians and visitors at Hawaiian Hula Days presented by the Hula Association of the Midwest.

In its sixth year, the nonprofit organization promotes the Hawaiian culture, values and traditions. This year's hula days are Friday to Sunday, Sept. 7-9, at the Wyndam Lisle.

"Everyone is welcome to join us," association President Kathy Griep said. "Our members will come from throughout the Midwest and even Florida, Texas and Oklahoma."

Griep estimates that 50 percent of the members are native Hawaiians.

The Hula Association was formed to spread the aloha spirit by hosting get-togethers for all who love Hawaii and its traditions. It encompasses a vast history, thriving customs and relevant values.

The three-day event will share experiences in music and dance. Kumu hula, meaning renowned teacher, Cy Bridges will come in from the island of Oahu to present the opening lecture and Kukakuka, a question-and-answer session.

Bridges, cultural director of the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii, is also a musician, composer, singer and genealogist. From Hong Kong to Mexico, Bridges is a popular lecturer and judge at various hula events and competitions.

"Bridges also will talk about rhythm, chants and record production," Griep said.

At the Lisle conference, kumu hula Jason Sadang will teach advance ukulele, following up on the conference's basic ukulele skills lessons last year. Sadang is a musician, actor and record producer from Maui. Most kumu hula have Hawaiian heritage and share a deep love of the culture.

All day on Saturday, dance classes will include hula auana, which is the modern form of dance characterized by fluid and graceful movements. Dancers may wear colorful muumuus and leis for these dances. The dance tells a story with hand movements.

Every conference includes some ancient hula kahiko dances, which use less swaying than modern dances. Participants wear ti-skirts, often considered grass skirts, and beads around the hair and on the ankle.

These dances are rooted in religious homage, often accompanied by chanting, drums and other traditional instruments, and performed in an energetic style.

Students are first taught the words and their meaning, then lessons move on to cover dance movements and their meanings. Even if you have never danced before, Griep said volunteers help new participants with the necessary movements.

From 6:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday in the hotel's ballroom, the Hoi'ke gives everyone time to perform with a live band the group's dance learned that day.

"We have a very family-oriented event, and even the little keikes (kids) will want to dance," Griep said. "It is very cute."

Participants from last year's hula days learned to make uli-uli to use in their dances. Uli-uli are gourds filled with small shells, seeds or pebbles with bright feathered tops that dancers shake while dancing.

All day Saturday, vendor tables in the hotel's lobby are open to the public and feature Hawaiian-related jewelry, flowers, clothes and schedules of dance classes.

Griep, who was born in Maui and raised in Honolulu, organized the Hula Association of the Midwest as a way to preserve and endear Hawaiian customs and traditions to the next generation.

She saw some of the customs being put aside when Hawaii became the 50th state in the United States on Aug. 21, 1959. The prevailing thought was to become Americanized and no longer teach the language and rich traditions of the islands.

"When we became a state, I had to start to wear shoes to school," Griep said. "Our families said we had to become Americans. But now we are trying to remember and bring back some of our culture and it is working out well."

Hawaii consists of eight main islands and is the 47th state in size, larger than Rhode Island, Connecticut and Delaware. After statehood, Hawaii quickly modernized.

With so much Aloha spirit, Griep, who lives in Lombard, is making a difference in preserving the Hawaiian customs.

The state of Hawaii presented to Griep, a registered nurse, a formal recognition for establishing the Hula Association of the Midwest as a way to "close the miles between Hawaii and people living on the mainland seeking a connection to their island roots." Her organization has grown from 100 to 300 members since it was established in 2007.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, an advocacy group for native Hawaiians, sponsors the Midwest conference.

"The OHA has proposed and passed a bill in Congress to deem native Hawaiians as indigenous people, like the American Indians and Alaskans," Griep said. "A huge part of their purpose is to retain the Hawaiian culture."

Aloha is a gift to share, Griep said. It is a word of greeting, parting, salutation and a way of life. It extends to caring for one another with mutual respect. The nonprofit group's motto is "to nurture, promote and perpetuate the Hawaiian culture and its values by keeping the 'Spirit of Aloha' alive in the Midwest."

To experience some of the special weekend, Griep suggests families come to the Hoi'ke from 6:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $10, free for kids younger than 12.

"The Hoi'ke is a great family experience to see all the dancers with costumes, leis and flowers in the hair," Griep said. "It is like a trip to Hawaii; it is all authentic Hawaiian."

She suggests visitors come dressed in Hawaiian clothes or something bright or with lots of color. Then there will be plenty of time to absorb the laid back feeling of the islands. Ea mai na lamaku e ho'okipa, meaning "We are here, the beacons of hospitality."

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