Keiki Hula Competition Prepares Next Generation of Dancers

Jul 21, 2017

Boys from Halau Kekuaokala'au'ala'iliahi compete in last year's Annual Queen Lili'uokalani Keiki Hula Competition.
Credit Kahu Kalani Wong

In the world of hula, Hilo has the Merrie Monarch Festival and Honolulu has the Keiki Hula Competition. For the past 42 years, Keiki Hula has cultivated the next generation of hula dancers – some as young as five years old. The group competition kicks off tonight with traditional hula. HPR’s Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi has this story.

"Aloha my name is ʻIliahi Paredes. My wife is Haunani Paredes, and we are kumu hula of Hālau Kekuaokalāʻauʻalaʻiliahi." 

Halau Kekuaokala'au'ala'iliahi outside the Neal Blaisdell Arena where they will perform tonight in the 2017 Keiki Hula Competition.
Credit Kahu Kalani Wong

Of the 150 keiki hula dancers in Paredes’ Wailuku-based hālau, only 52 made the cut to fly to Oʻahu to compete in the Annual Queen Liliʻuokalani Keiki Hula Competition. That includes 11-year-old Kūhaʻo Murray. This will be Murray's fifth year competing.

"I’m excited. I feel very prepared and this competition helped me to face my fear in front of very, very large crowds," says Kūhaʻo. 

11-year-old Kuha'o Murray and his father Pono join the halau for service work at Uluhaimalama on O'ahu.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

"We train our keiki for this competition for about seven months and the biggest thing we want them to take away is that they can," says Kumu Iliahi Paredes. 

Preparing for competition is a family affair. Here's Kūhaʻo's father Pono.

"They have us go out and do the gathering a lot of the plants that are used for the competition. The feather leis that are used in the competition are the parents kuleana. So that’s many hours," says Pono.


Girls from Halau Kekuaokala'au'ala'iliahi rehearse at Honolulu's Halau i ka Wekiu's studio in preparation for the Keiki Hula competition.
Credit Kahu Kalani Wong

The three-day competition was established in 1975 by the Kalihi-Pālama Arts & Culture Society. Trisha Kēhaulani Watson-Sproat is society board President.

"The idea really was to foster their love of hula and their pride in their culture and to just hone their skills," says Watson, "So this is our competition specifically for children from ages five through twelve. So this takes them all the way up to the year they can entire Merrie Monarch."

Young male hula dancers from Halau Kekuaokala'au'ala'iliahi competing at Keiki Hula.
Credit Kalihi-Palama Arts & Culture Society

Kumu Hula ʻIliahi and Haunani Paredes both took part in the keiki hula competition as young hula dancers in the 1980s.

"We started off hula when we were keiki. Both of us at three years old," says ʻIliahi, "And we know that with time and effort and love by the kumu, these keiki can just blossom."

Kumu Hula Haunani & Iliahi Paredes of Maui's Halau Kekuaokala'au'ala'iliahi.
Credit Kalihi-Palama Arts & Culture Society

For Kūhaʻo, this year’s keiki hula competition will be his last. He turns 12-years-old next Thursday and plans to take his hula game to the next level.

"Hoping to go to Merrie Monarch," says Kūhaʻo, "I’m gonna miss my hula brothers and hula sisters very much."

Kuha'o competed in the 2016 Master Keiki Hula Competition.
Credit Kahu Kalani Wong

Kūhaʻo and his hālau take the stage tonight at the Keiki Hula Competition. Advice from dad?

"It's way more than a competition," says Pono, "And like kumu said no matter what the outcome they have become better people and greater Hawaiians and truly know that hula has made that possible."