Hula, Hapa and Pi'ilani

When I was eight years old, my mom signed me up for a hula class at the Rec Center at Eagle Rock Park. I liked the idea of the classes, the but the reality wasn’t nearly as good. I was terrible. I couldn’t move my hips or butt the way I was supposed to, my fingers splayed out most unattractively and I just didn’t have the coordinator or body comfort to find my center of grace. My instructor very kindly told my mother at the end of the eight-week session that she didn’t see a future in hula for me.

At the same time as my eight-year-old self was discovering that I couldn’t move my hips, my three-year-old cousin Pi’ilani (who is in fact part Hawaiian) was also taking her first hula steps. However, where I was awkward, she was elegant (even at the age of three). Her body took on the movements of the hula and as she grew, it became part of her bones, her skin, her muscles and her very presence in the world. She has danced in hundreds of competitions and all over the globe.

Three and a half years ago, my uncle brought his entire family out to Philadelphia from Hawaii, so that they could see the city in which he had grown up. We had a family brunch at Little Pete’s that included all the extended family, and Pi’ilani and her sister Pomai danced in the middle of the restaurant. It was certainly something that the staff and clientele at Little Pete’s had never seen before.

Pi’ilani has been touring with a Hawaiian band called Hapa for the last month, and today they did two performances at the Ram’s Head Tavern in Annapolis, MD. I drove the two and half hours down from Philly to see the show. I’ve never actually seen Pi’ilani perform professionally (living five or ten hours away by plane has gotten in the way), so I was really looking forward to today’s show. It was even better than I anticipated. Knowing nothing about Hapa before I went, I wasn’t prepared for such an incredible sound (or such a devoted fan base). And Pi’ilani was incredible.

After the show, I went backstage to hang out for a bit before I had to hit the road, and before the second show started. Pi’ilani and I are first cousins, her dad and my mom are siblings, and yet the amount of time we’ve spent together in the last fifteen years can be counted in hours. But it didn’t matter. There is something about being in the company of someone with whom you share blood and people that cuts through distance. We talked about our families, relationships and frustrations with finding our paths through life. We both said how nice it was to see the other (and really meant it). As I got up to leave, we took a picture together, hugged and said goodbye. I am so glad that this was how I spent today.

0 thoughts on “Hula, Hapa and Pi'ilani

  1. seadragon

    Having never met you, I am not really qualified to say this, but I will anyway… those smiles on you and Pi’ilani look so happy and genuine. It’s hard enough for people to smile genuinely into the camera normally, but I think it says a lot that you are both doing it here after having just met up after basically years of not seeing each other!

  2. Ellen

    Sounds like a lot of fun! My extended family (ie – mom’s side of the family) has actually gotten a lot closer in recent years and I have loved it.

  3. Michael

    It is a shame they only played a few nights out here on the right coast. We have family that lives in Hawaii too. Seeing anything Hawaiian this far east is unusual.
    That’s great you were able to see your cousin. With so much distance between you, it must have been a real thrill to spend some time together.

  4. aunty marvalee

    Hi honey!

    just got your e-mail this morning, and got to your site. What a cool article, about you and pi’ilani. You both look so beautiful and happy. don’t be a stranger, e-mail more offen. much love and aloha,

    aunty marvalee from hawaii


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