A Visit to Hilo and the Merrie Monarch 2014!

Super late post but here we are (or were)! Fatz and Theresa @ the 2014 Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, HI!! This trip was on our individual bucket lists (because isn't the Merrie Monarch on every hula dancer's bucket list?) and we decided to join forces and cross it off together. And what a trip! Full of learning, wonder and inspiration. Read on! [and click on the hyperlinks for more info]

@ the Edith Kanaka`ole Stadium where they hold the epic hula competition each year.

Ho`ike Night! The first night of the 4-day stage event features dance groups from all over the world. This time, they had two groups from Japan, one from New Zealand and another from South San Francisco. This group, Te Pura O Te Rehura`a from South SF, was fantastic and their ote'a presentation was smokin'. Ho`ike night is also free admission so you have to line up to get good seats. I wish we knew about the line. It was the longest line we'd ever seen...But we got in and got terrific seats!

In addition to groups from other countries, Ho`ike night also features hula halau from Hilo. Here is singer, composer and dancer, Kaumakaiwa Kanaka`ole, chanting on the stage and stadium named after her great-grandmother, Edith Kanaka`ole. Talk about fierce. She was FIERCE!

And then this happened. Te Waka Huia. And I thank the gods that we got to see this performance because it was nothing short of spectacular. This Maori group from New Zealand held our attention for a full hour. They all stayed on stage, singing, dancing, moving -- non stop. NON. STOP. It was a lesson in commitment, execution, team work, and artistry. Here's a youtube video of a bit of their magic.

So, when it's the superbowl of hula, it also means the superbowl of singers and musicians. We were fan-girling all over the place because everywhere you go, you'll see and hear LIVE and IN PERSON the very musicians that fill your ears during your BART commutes. Here is the incomparable Kuana Torres Kahele doin' his thing. And, of course, his 'thing' is his amazing falsetto. His other thing is creating new and beautiful mele all the time. He is a treasure.

Lots of activities during the festival week, including demonstrations of Hawaiian crafts and arts.

And also...shopping! There are booth after booth of fabulous things. And lots of opportunities to support local craftsmen and artists @ the Afook Chinen Civic Auditorium. Wahine Toa fans: her booth is at the back of one of the buildings. Just look for the loooooooong line and you'll find it. So worth the wait because Wahine Toa is awesome. (We couldn't snap photos because our hands were very, very full of Wahine Toa clothes.)

And then this fine braddah photo-bombed my photo of the beautiful lehua (that he cultivates and sells).

And here we go! 2nd night is the Miss Aloha Hula competition! Many thanks to our friends (we're lookin' at you, Lynn G!) who helped us find tickets to the competition. Super hard to secure these sought-after tickets!

And we got great seats! Next to lovely folks who follow hula like my husband follows fantasy football. They know history, statistics, past wins, etc. We learned so much!

We sat right next to the royal court! That little boy was so good. He sat patiently for 4 hours!

The blurry photos above are of Kili, granddaughter of the first Miss Aloha Hula, Aloha Dalire. Kili's mom was also a Miss Aloha Hula. Her outfits were spectacular - especially designed prints by Sig Zane. Kili came in 2nd, but her grandma (on her dad's side) told me that they were going to enter her again in 2015. I ran into her grandma in the ladies' room of our favorite restaurant: Ken's House of Pancakes. Because pancakes.

And here is the 2013 Miss Aloha Hula, Manalani English, during her farewell speech and right before her farewell dance. She was just so lovely.

Finally, here she is! Miss Aloha Hula 2014 - Ke'alohilani Tara Eliga Serrao at the parade in Hilo Town! Her performances (kahiko and `auana) were beautiful and moving. She embodied hula and Hawaii, from her eyes down to her toes. Everything she did was hula. Chatter in the seats was that her `oli was what put her on top. Her command of the Hawaiian language and her style of `oli totalled perfection. I cannot imagine what goes into the preparation for this competition. The rigor, the commitment, the research for knowledge, the courage. Warrior traits. We were in awe of all of the ladies that evening.

Kahiko night! (and in our new Wahine Toa outfits!)

Umm...so we loved kahiko night. Kawaili'ula Kane

We really, really did. Ahem.

Can you spot Miss Aloha Hula in the front? And check out their beautiful lehua lei. Simple. Stunning. (And I was pretty impressed with the zoom on my little point and shoot camera. We were close, but not this close.)

Hula noho, with bamboo that they pounded to make a gorgeous sound.

The wahine of the Academy of Hawaiian Arts (Kumu Mark Ho`omalu) brought the house down! Talk about badass. Standing ovation, deafening cheers. They killed it. KILLED. IT. They were so together, so powerful in their dancing. They danced with their bodies and their faces. You just knew they understood in their hearts and minds the story they were telling with their movements. So impressive. Then, of course, their kumu's chanting is just so boss. This is HULAAAAA! Check them out in this video.

Final night: `Auana competition! We told you we shopped a lot. We also noticed that everyone else shopped a lot, too. Folks got fancier and fancier each night. The hair pieces got bigger. Pearls everywhere. More leis worn. Hats. Lots of hats all of a sudden. And then I wished I had a hat. Also, families wore matching outfits. On purpose. We were just trying to keep up.

Gorgeous, gorgeous leis and hair pieces. There are sellers on the side of the stadium.

And here, ladies and gentlemen, is the beyond fabulous house band. Their hair-dos were significantly less tall during the Miss Aloha Hula competition. They went all out for the final evening, dahlings. I'm pretty sure there are pu`ili sticks holding up their hair.

Nani, nani, nani...

This `auana made us cry, it was so beautiful. And it turns out that the song and hula were created especially for Joyce O'Brien of the Waianae Comprehensive Health Center - for Joyce's beautiful and generous spirit. Joyce is someone I know! And she is just like this hula - lovely.

They danced with 'ili'ili. Can you see the tiny lokelani on their kupe`e? Every detail counts!

Sassy!

Hands down, the best implement number we'd ever witnessed. Smooth, fast, clever choreography. And so, so fun. Again, we were in awe of the execution of their moves, their expression, their grace. We were stunned by their fabulousness. Here they are in action.

Per tradition, right before they announce the winners, all the kumu of the participating halaus are announced and invited to dance on stage. So wonderful to see them all dance together. Some of the newer kumu were dancing right beside THEIR kumu. Lovely to see that -- the passing on of knowledge and love of hula. You can just see how proud the kumu were of their former students. It's how hula lives on...

Here's Theresa with Auntie who took our tickets every night. And she was unfailingly peppy and chipper as she greeted the hundreds and hundreds of spectators.

We have more photos to share but then this blog post would never end. We had a wonderful experience in Hilo at the Merrie Monarch! We came away committed and determined to be better dancers and teachers. We left Hilo with grateful hearts - thankful for all that we saw and experienced. A hui hou, Hilo. Till we meet again!

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