My mother dancing at the Flower Festival June 1993

My mother was my first dance teacher. To this day, I can reach back to what it felt like watching my mother dance in front of me as I tried to follow. We’re in our old house. I see the blue carpet on the floor. Hawaiian music surrounds me. My mother is twice my size with long black hair taking three steps to the right, followed by three steps to the left. Her hips sway as she moves side to side. I hear her voice telling me, “Bend your knees more.” It’s a vivid memory, as if a part of me is still there dancing with her.

She began teaching me to dance the hula when I was five. She taught me that the hands tell a story, and that when we dance, we share the story with others. In the Hawaiian culture, the hula carries the history of the people remembered forever through dance. I was taught to smile, make eye contact, and to enjoy the dance, because that is what draws people in. Some of this I learned because she told me. Most of it I learned from watching her.

My mother was the only hula dancer in our small town, so she was the entertainment for every luau. I was the one she would throw in front of the audience when she needed to make a costume change. I’d be in a flower mumu dancing to the “Little Brown Gal in Hawaii.” I don’t remember being scared. I only recall having fun. My favorite part of the show was at the end. The audience members would join us on stage to learn a song. There would be lots of laughter. That is what I loved most.

My mother was always well-prepared. We practiced for every show. She had back up music for every song and even carried an extra sound system in the car. But once the show started, she would always tell me not to worry. Whatever happens, happens. Enjoy yourself and the audience will too. If you mess up just keep going and smile. They’ll never know.

I’m much older now. Mostly, I dance Salsa and Bachata. But in my heart, I am my mother’s hula girl. Dancing will always hold a story whether it be one of happiness, sadness or gratitude for being alive. I feed off the energy of those around me and add my own to the mix. I practice to be the best I can, but when I dance with others I simply relax and enjoy. Whatever happens, happens. Come to think of it, that is the way I live my life too. In both dancing and life, my mother is my first (and favorite) teacher. Always.

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