New Miss Aloha Hula radiated joy, gratitude in winning performance

By Nina Wu / nwu@staradvertiser.com on April 25, 2014
Ke‘alohilani Tara Eliga Serrao was congratulated by her hula sisters onstage Thursday night after winning the Miss Aloha Hula competition. (DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM)

Ke‘alohilani Tara Eliga Serrao was congratulated by her hula sisters onstage Thursday night after winning the Miss Aloha Hula competition. (DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM)

HILO » Ke‘alohilani Tara Eliga Serrao, who won the title of Miss Aloha Hula on Thursday night at the 51st Merrie Monarch Festival, is not a person of many words.

But her performance that night, as well as the smile that spread across her face and entire being during the auana portion of the competition, said it all: She completely and wholly loves hula.

Serrao, 23, of Aiea, represented Ka La ‘Onohi Mai o Ha‘e­ha‘e under the direction of kumu hula Tracie and Keawe Lopes.

“If my kumu are happy, then I’m happy,” Serrao told the Hono­lulu Star-Advertiser yesterday about winning the title. “I’m just grateful for this experience. I was happy already just getting to represent the halau. I wasn’t expecting to win.”

The Kamehameha Schools graduate eats, lives and breathes hula, though it’s also just a part of who she is. She also won the Hawaiian Language Award.

Serrao had been working diligently on her dances for the Miss Aloha Hula competition since January. Whenever kumu called for her to practice, she would go.

“She came a long way,” said best friend and hula sister Noe Dudoit. “She worked hard, she wanted it and she got it. I’ve been with her through it.”

When she wasn’t working at her job as a coffee merchandiser, she was at hula.

“It just feels good, so why would somebody not want to be around that, if it makes you feel good?” she said. “It also has a lot to do with my kumu and hula sisters.”

With a score of 1,142 points, Serrao soared to the top with a more than 50-point lead over second-place finisher Kili Lai of Keo­lau­lani Halau ‘Olapa o Laka.

Serrao’s win came exactly 20 years after kumu Tracie Lopes took the Miss Aloha Hula title in 1994 under the direction of late kumu hula O’Brian Eselu.

Serrao’s parents, Joseph and Tina, also danced for Eselu, so she is, in a sense, his moo­puna, or grandchild.

Her father, Joseph, was one of Eselu’s original dancers when he brought his halau, Na Wai ‘Eha ‘o Puna, to the Merrie Monarch Festival in 1979.

“She was so eager, so easy to train,” said Tracie Lopes, who danced with Tina Serrao. “Keawe and I, we just want to make sure that hula continues and that the elders in hula are happy and pleased with what we do.”

Keawe Lopes echoed that sentiment.

“It was a nice validation of our work,” he said. “If the kupuna in the audience are pleased, then we’re pleased.”

When Ke‘alohilani Serrao, the eldest of three sisters, got on stage Thursday night, all the stars aligned. 

For her kahiko number, she chanted with a humble confidence and was one with the mele often referred to as “Keano­lani,” a name chant in honor of Princess Ruth Kee­liko­lani set in Hae­hae, the eastern point of Puna where the sun first rises. “Hae­hae” is also part of the halau’s name.

Her face was expressive and her movements in tune with every word her kumu sang as one began and the other completed a verse.

For her auana number, “Ke ‘Ala Ka‘u i Honi,” a mele expressing affection for Queen Lili‘u­oka­lani, Serrao glided across the stage, relaying birds drinking from a stream and the beauty of an unfurling fern. She even sang a few of the verses.

As Miss Aloha Hula, Serrao said simply that she hopes to be able to portray “the way I feel and our love for hula.”

On Friday morning she was once again perfecting moves, this time as part of the line in a rehearsal for the group kahiko number with her hula sisters at Edith Ka­naka­‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium.

Thirteen dancers vied for the Miss Aloha Hula title Thursday night. The festival’s group kahiko (ancient-style) competition took place Friday night; the group auana (modern-style) contest takes place Saturday night, followed by the presentation of awards.