Risks and Hula

When I woke up this morning and attempted to stand up, my body felt like it had sustained a full-on collision with a semi-truck. My hips ached from shaking them over and over at my first real hula class, the muscles in my legs cried out in pain from all of the walking and dancing I have been doing lately, and my arm and shoulder muscles hurt from swimming at Cockroach Cove. I have been having too much fun…

On Tuesday we had driven through a twisting, terrifying highway to the other side of the island to a small, secluded beach called Cockroach Cove. This gorgeous beach is surrounded on three sides by towering walls of black rock and the deep blue water crashes with great force against the shore without so much as a break. Arun, Professor Sharma’s brother, showed me a lava formation that caused there to be a hole in the rock that went all the way down to the water, so when the waves crashed, the water would go up through the hole and blow out into the air. I watched as the white water rose about two feet above the hole, and Arun explained that during the winter, when the waves were stronger, the water would spurt high into the sky.

The blow hole

I loved watching the waves slam against the rocks and reach up, up, up into the sky. Then the white water droplets would fall slowly, as if suspended, back into the blue, tumultuous waters below. It reminded me of a picture on the front of a cereal box  that showed milk suspended in air. Then I would close my eyes and listen to the churning, rushing sound of the ocean.

Observing the ocean

When I first got into the water, I was terrified because the waves were huge. I started to panic when I couldn’t touch the bottom anymore, but felt a little stupid for feeling this way, since Maya, Professor Sharma’s two-year-old, was laughing at the waves. She had no fear of them at all. Soon I learned to jump up when the waves came, so that my head would always be above the water.

Still later, after observing a couple of local boys dive into the water from the rocks, Arun somehow convinced me to jump into the water with him. We waited for a perfect wave to come for what seemed like forever, during which time I held my head in my hands and contemplated what would happen if I drowned. Finally, though, we counted to three and took the plunge. It was a thrilling moment in the air before hitting the water, but I forgot to hold my breath, so I swallowed a mouthful of sea water. I was coughing and sputtering, totally disoriented, and I honestly thought I was drowning because I was desperately treading water and not going anywhere. But Arun just pushed me towards the shore and told me I could touch the bottom. I stood up in the water and was fine for a few seconds, but then a big wave crashed over my head and I was sputtering again. I vowed never to do that again.

Life is all about taking risks

But Arun was insistent that we try again and I knew that I needed to conquer my fear of drowning, so I followed him out. This time, I held my nose, but I still swallowed water – swimming just does not come naturally to me. Arun tried to get me to go out to deeper waters, but I steadfastly refused. I wished I could just relax in the ocean and just let the water soothe me, but this gnawing nervousness in the pit of my stomach kept me on the lookout for dangerous waves and the constant worry of drowning exhausted me. When I looked at Maya and how she giggled as the waves crashed, I wished that someday I could harness that joy of swimming in the ocean. But I was glad that I had at least taken two risks, and I walked up the rocks out of the beach with a seed of confidence.

The next morning, I got up relatively early to take two buses to the Waikiki Community Center to take a beginners’ hula lesson. As I walked into the large gym-like auditorium, I observed that most of the woman there were speaking Japanese and wearing all different kinds of flowy hula skirts. I looked down at my blue, tighter dress and wished that I had chosen to wear a different outfit, instead. I was not sure who or how to pay for the class, so I went up to two older Japanese woman and started to ask in English. I soon realized that they could not understand me, so I switched to Japanese mid-conversation, and they both looked at me as if I had sprouted green alien ears. As I waited for the class to start, I could see them still peering confusedly at me from across the room.

Soon enough, a middle-aged, Native Hawaiian looking man with a big, round belly told the about sixty or so women in the gym to line up in four lines, two on each side, facing each other. Except for about one or two white women, all of the women were Japanese and could not speak English. Yet what was interesting to me was that when signing up at the front, we had to put if we were residents of Hawai’i or not, and most of the women had marked that they lived here. I wondered if there was an influx of Japanese people immigrating to Hawai’i recently.

Our teacher, a very happy man who laughed a lot, told us to put our hands on our hips and taught us the basic way to move them. “Hip up! Move! Heel up!” He would call out. Sometimes he would say, “Migi (right)!” and use Japanese words so that the Japanese women would understand better. I tried to follow along in the front, but moving my hips was more difficult and tiring than I had previously imagined. I felt embarrassed when the teacher would signal me out and tell me that my steps were too big, or that I was stomping the ground rather than being gentle. It seemed as if I was the most inexperienced of the group and I wondered if the other women had taken other classes already. When we would demonstrate how not to do moves, he looked so ridiculous that all of the women would giggle all at once, filling the room with laughter.

I felt my legs start to turn to jelly as he made us keep moving our hips and bending our knees low to the ground. We learned about five moves and he would come out with his ukelele and strum while singing. He would call out the different moves and we would follow suit. I loved dancing to the music – it made me forget the pain in my hips and I just concentrated on moving to the sound of the ukelele.

When the hour long class was over, I was completely drained, thirsty and hungry. I wanted to learn more and vowed to come back to Hawai’i someday to learn this gentle, rhythmic dance in its entirety.

I cannot believe that my time here is already almost half-done. I feel like I have done a lot of play and not much work…but I have learned so much about the local culture here, and Hawai’i is starting to feel so familiar to me. But I hope to fill the next week and a half with much research, interviewing and observing!


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