The once-reluctant dancer captures the prestigious crown on her second try
VOLCANO, HAWAII » Manalani Mili Hokoana English of Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka was still on a cloud the morning after having won the Miss Aloha Hula title on Thursday night at the Merrie Monarch Festival.
But the reality of preparing for the competition with her hula sisters set in during the halau’s excursion to Kilauea Caldera at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Friday morning.
“Today is a new day,” said her kumu hula Napua Greig, who brought her halau to visit Halema’uma’u so they could have a connection to what they would be dancing about in their auana number.
English, 24, of Waiohuli, Maui, also won the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Hawaiian Language Award, which comes with $1,000.
It was English’s second time competing for Miss Aloha Hula. In 2011, she was first runner-up to Maui dancer Tori Hulali Canha of Halau Ke’alaokamaile by just three points.
This time, she netted a score of 1,057, which helped her soar to the top among the dozen soloists competing, 15 points above first runner-up Sloane Makana West of Halau Kekuaokala’au’ala’iliahi, also of Maui.
That also means that on this second attempt, she goes down in history as the Miss Aloha Hula of the festival’s 50th year.
“I joke about it,” she said. “I got to do it twice.”
She added that many of the solo competitors are friends who she knows, given the small hula community.
“It’s just little things that separate people from winning and losing, so it’s like the luck of the draw,” she said. “Everyone comes out with their best, and you can never tell who’s going to place, who’s not going to place. It shouldn’t matter as much as people take it because all we’re going to do is bring our best.”
English, a Kamehameha Schools Maui graduate, has been dancing since she was 9 years old for kumu hula Greig and Kahulu Maluo.
She was initially reluctant about dancing because she was more interested in sports like softball and soccer — like her two brothers, one older and one younger.
Her parents, Glenn and Leni English, encouraged her and her younger sister to learn hula. Once she began to dance and learn what hula was all about, she got hooked.
“It can be really intense, it can be very loving, it can be a mix of a whole bunch of different emotions you can bring out dancing hula,” she said. “So that was really exciting.”
Now hula is her life.
She began preparing for the Miss Aloha Hula contest in October, flying back and forth between Maui and Oahu, where she is a radiation technology student at Kapiolani Community College.
Greig said she and Maluo chose English for the solo competition again this year because they felt in their hearts that she was a Miss Aloha Hula and the best representative for the halau.
This is the first time the halau has taken the Miss Aloha Hula title.
“Malani for us represents 17 years of teaching hula,” said Greig, referring to when the halau started. “It was a wonderful journey. Everything fell into place.”
Maluo said: “We try not to expect anything, but we worked really hard. She’s been really diligent.”
English’s voice was strong and expressive as she delivered an impressive oli (chant) for her kahiko number, “‘Auhea Wale ‘Oe E Ka Ua Noe,” which describes a slow-moving rain as a metaphor for the sensual pleasures of lovemaking.
For auana, she floated gracefully on stage as she danced “E Pili Mai,” beckoning her sweetheart to come and be her “lei of the night.”
Originally, the mele (song) had only one verse, but in December, composer Larry Lindsey Kimura added two more verses for the halau to use at Merrie Monarch. Peter Moon composed the music.
English credited her family and hula sisters for helping her win the title. Her boyfriend, who also dances hula, has been supportive.
“I’m Miss Aloha Hula only because of the people behind me,” she said.
The Merrie Monarch Festival continues with the group auana competition tonight, followed by awards presentations.
Miss Aloha Hula results:
» Manalani Mili Hokoana English, Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka, 1,057 points
» Sloane Makana West, Halau Kekuaokala’au’ala’iliahi, 1,042 points
» Jasmine Kaleihiwa Dunlap, Hula Halau ‘O Kamuela, 1,041 points
» Chalei Malianapuaonahala Pu’ulei McKee, Ka La ‘Onohi Mai O Ha’eha’e, 1,039 points
» Whitney Pi’ilani Baldwin Schneider-Furuya, Halau I Ka Wekiu, 1,033 points