Since I was a little girl, I've been entranced by hula, the swaying and sashaying dance that tells a story in Polynesian culture. Every year when we'd go to Hawai'i, I couldn't wait to see the Kodak Hula Show. At the end of each show, the dancers would invite the crowd to join them on the grass and would teach a simple hula dance to the brave souls who'd kicked off their flip-flops to join them.
My love for hula dancing didn’t wane, and six weeks after our first child was born, I signed up to take a class at our community center. What was supposed to be a one month class turned into a Friday night tradition that lasted until we moved to North Dakota. My halau (dance troop) was a mixture of little girls and tutus (older ladies). We danced at local festivals, restaurants and competitions.
When we moved, it was hard to leave my hula sisters behind. And though my kumu said I'd have no use for my costumes and implements on the prairie, I told her I couldn't part with them. It's a good thing, too, because soon after moving here I discovered worship hula.
Worship hula is hula dancing choreographed to hymns and worship songs. A lot of people have the wrong idea about hula. Some think it is a meaningless dance, or that it is a dance of sensuality, and they don't understand how hula and worship go together. But since hula is actually performed in order to tell a story and pass on history, it lends itself well to worshiping Ke Akua (God). Worship hula is an integral part of church services in the Polynesian islands, including Hawai'I, and it has made its way to the western mainland.
My first experience with worship hula left me deeply moved. As I watched the halau, dressed in white pa'u skirts (heavily gathered skirts that swish when you sway), and heard the ipu (gourd drum) beat give way to a throaty Hawaiian rendition of “How Great Thou Art,” I couldn't help but cry. It was like watching angels dancing at the empty tomb of our Savior. It was so moving that, even as I write to you here, I'm crying at the memory.
And that was just one service. Upon further investigation, I discovered another worship hula to my favorite worship tune, Chris Tomlin's “Amazing Grace.” It's so hard to explain with words the beauty and worship expressed in this dance.
There's a famous Hawaiian song that says “keep your eyes on the hands.” The hand motions in hula tell the story very much the same way we put hand motions to children's worship songs. And just as those hand motions help plant that song in the heart of a child, hula motions bring visual images and a deeper understanding to the words they express.
If you are lucky you can spot this beach-hearted brunette and her hula hands in the pews on a Sunday morning. Occasionally you might even spot our family on a church stage, praising God Hawaiian-style. My husband plays the ukulele (pronounced oo-kuh-LAY-lay), our son plays the ipu gourd and our little girl is learning to dance.
But watch out, the Spirit might just move you to dance too. "Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp." Psalm 149:3
In what non-traditional ways does the Spirit move you to worship? If you could worship-dance to one song, which one would you choose? Why? Have you ever experienced worship dance of any kind?