April 24 2009 by Sam Lowe
You're never too old to learn the hula. As long as your hips can take it. And your sacroiliac doesn't give out.
My lesson came from a charming young woman at the Polynesian Cultural Center on the north shore of Oahu, far from the crowds of Hawaii's largest city, Honolulu. The center, the primary tourist destination on the north side of the island, is a showcase for the seven different Polynesian cultures from Hawaii, Tonga, Samoa, the Marquesas, New Zealand, Fiji and Tahiti.
The facility was established by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a non-profit activity to preserve Polynesia's cultural heritage and provide employment for students at Brigham Young University's Hawaii campus.
Every afternoon, the young people stage the Pageant of the Canoes. Dancers and musicians in native costumes perform as the rafts move slowly past the audience lining both sides of a stream. Then after sunset, more than 100 students perform in a 90-minute musucal extravaganza that highlights the various cultures through song and dance.
Each group has its own village, complete with wateralls, streams, thatched-roof buildings and artisans who give visitors rudimentary lessons in such such activities as drum-pounding, island games, waving with palm fronds and dancing the hula. Once invited to take part in a hula lesson, I did a couple of stretching exercises and proclaimed I was ready.
It is, my young instructor said, quite simple - just rotate your hips in time with the music. It turns out that there is a major difference between rotating the hips the proper way and wiggling them the way most of us have done in earlier times while pretending to be a native of the islands. After many false starts and a few wiggles that bordered on erotic, I was able to achieve enough basic rhythm to earn me a lei, the flower garland awarded to all successful novice hula dancers.
And it didn't even hurt my back.