Polynesian dance preserves traditions and creates resiliency

The graceful movements of Hawaiian dance will be evoking cultural identity and healing the presentation of Aloha Polynesia.

Hawaiian dance teacher, Paddy Kauhane was born in Honolulu, Hawaii with both Canadian and Hawaiian heritage. After her parents’ divorce, Kauhane relocated to Canada with her mom at a young age. In Canada, she grew up feeling isolated from her traditional culture.

Kuhane credits her Hawaiian influence to her uncle, Eddie Kahea Beckley and his family in Seattle, who fostered her love for the culture afterwards. Connecting with her Hawaiian family in Seattle pushed her to open the Kauhane School of Polynesian dance, also known as Halau Hula Ka’Uhane O Ka Pakipika.

“My uncle was a catalyst. He was the one that said, “It’s time for you to go and really teach people in Canada what Hula really is contrary to what they see on TV or what they see when they get off the airport.”

Since it first opened in 1999, Halau Hula Ka’Uhane O Ka Pakipika has taught nearly 150 students and grew into the largest Polynesian dance school in Canada. Kauhane attributes the success of her school to the traditional Hawaiian teachings that taught her to be “steeped in humility” and respect multiple generations.

Prior to Western contact, there was no written language in Hawaii. Communication occurred orally through chanting and Hula. For Kauhane, teaching Hula and traditional customs addresses the long history of colonialism.

“For me the importance of what we do is to always teach people to understand where this movement came from, what it means, the legends [and] the very real people that it’s representing. By doing that, we are perpetuating the kingdom of Hawaii. We are perpetuating the cultures of Polynesia. We’re continuing it on and keeping it traditional.”

Students from the Kauhane Polynesian Dance school attend a workshop in Portland, Oregon. Dated back in July 2013. | Photo by Frank Grosspetsch

Students from the Kauhane Polynesian Dance school attend a workshop in Portland, Oregon. Dated back in July 2013. | Photo by Frank Grosspetsch

An experience alike the First Nations’

Kuhane recognizes the Polynesian dance she teaches is not indigenous to Canada. “I want to acknowledge that to respect the First Nations people.” She also identifies similarities in the experiences of her people in Hawaii with First Nations communities in Canada.

“For us, it was the Western world. For indigenous people in Canada, it was people coming over from Europe and taking over their land, covering them from their beliefs and forcing another culture upon them. [What] we’ve experienced in Hawaii and the First Nations people experience in Canada is that loss of identity. They have been fighting to not only get it back, but to be recognized for it. I want to celebrate those parallels that we have with them.”

Through Hula, Kauhane teaches her students the importance of kuleana, the responsibility to care for future generations. “It should be the foundation of what you do. If you know who you are, is going to be continually perpetuated, you have to live your life with moral values. What you are doing now is a reflection on who you are going to produce – your children. It is always about having that responsibility.”

Dancing to fight ALS

Practicing this concept, Hawaiian dance instructor, Josie DeBaat, is organizing the “Aloha Polynesia” event on October 5th to raise money for the ALS (Lou Gehrig) Society and the Union Gospel Mission.

DeBaat’s daughter passed away two years ago due to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Witnessing suffering from the disease first hand, she started fundraising as an attempt to prevent people from going through the same pain her daughter went through.

“It’s so terrible. I don’t want to see anyone going through it… but unfortunately people are still getting it. I’ve decided to do as much fundraising as I can to give to the ALS Society.”

Celebrating its 40th year anniversary, “Aloha Polynesia” will consist of traditional dances from Hawaii, Tahiti, and New Zealand. Dancers of the event are participants from DeBaat’s dance classes at Delta Community House, Renfrew Park Community Centre, and Bonsor Recreational Centre.

For DeBaat, whose Hawaiian name is Halau Kia’oka Hula, meaning “Guardian of the Hula,” this event is also an opportunity to showcase Hula in the most traditional way possible.

“Dance is a living art and it changes. It gets modern and then people forget the old ways. So I will show them dances from the royal times, when Hawaii was still a part of [their own] royalty.”