Hau‘oli dancers, first winners at festival, to return for encore

By Nina Wu / nwu@staradvertiser.com on March 31, 2013

Seven dancers made up the Hau‘oli Hula Maids who were named overall winner of the Merrie Monarch Festival’s first competition in 1971.

The lovely “hula maids” were Mapuana Yasue, Florence Iwalani Koanui, Jade Hind, Paulette Akim, Lei Bita, Leimomi Ho and Patricia Caires.


Talk-story session and hula performance

» When: 10 a.m. Thursday

» Where: ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, 600 Imiloa Place, Hilo

» Cost: $6 ($5 members)

» Info: 808-969-9703 or www.imiloahawaii.org

They won for their performance of “Akala‘i Au i Kahiau,” a chant the late kumu hula Victoria I‘i Rodrigues turned into a song and choreographed for auana, or modern-style, hula. (The kahiko, or ancient style, hula was not part of the competition at the time.)

Rodrigues and Pauline Kekahuna accompanied the dancers on guitar, Violet Pahu Lilikoi played bass and Leilani Mendez, ukulele.

Bringing a shot of nostalgia to the stage, the original Hau‘oli Hula Maids will perform the same number at the Merrie Monarch’s Hoike on Wednesday night at the Edith Kanaka’ole Multi-Purpose Stadium.

Then Leialoha Kaleikini, Kekahuna’s younger sister, will join the ladies for a performance of “Ku’u Hoaloha.”

It will be like a big reunion.

Koanui, 81, remembers the year they won and that they wore long, white muumuu with simple adornments of ilima and maile lei. Yasue, 82, remembers dancing on a basketball court at the Hilo Civic Auditorium to an audience that could get drinks at a bar. “In our time we just wanted to dance,” said Kaleikini. “We didn’t think of the competition so much. We just wanted to

At the time, most of the halau’s hula was taught in carports or home parlors, said Kaleikini, 76. Any time a dancer made a mistake, the penalty was 50 cents — that’s how they paid for their Christmas party.

In subsequent years, Kekahuna led the halau, followed by Mendez, and the name was changed to the Hau’oli Hula Studio. New generations of dancers from Hau’oli went on to place at Merrie Monarch in 1973, 1975 and 1979.

Mendez’s daughter Miss Aloha Hula 1984, Twyla Mendez, founded her own halau, Halau Na Pua A Lei, in honor of her mother’s legacy.

Penny Keli’i-Vredenberg, emcee for the festival’s hoolaulea today, and part of the Rodrigues family by marriage, is looking forward to the return of the Hau’oli Hula Maids. It brings her nostalgia for the old days.

“I love to watch their style because it’s Mama’s style,” said Keli‘i-Vredenberg, referring to Rodrigues. “Her style was very traditional, with a little chili pepper added to it. … She was a little innovative when nobody else was.”

The Hau‘oli Hula Maids will appear at a talk-story session and hula performance Thursday at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo as part of a program on hula.