Background Info

Hula is a native Hawaiian dance. In this video from the National Geographic Channel, dancers and historians explain the origins and development of hula.
  • Birth of the Hula (start-0:45)
  • Hula is Banned (0:46-1:10)
  • Rebirth of Hula (1:11-1:45)
  • Making Hula Relevant to a Modern Audience (1:46-2:08)
  • Merrie Monarch Festival (2:09-2:50) 
Teaching Strategies
The following tabs offer suggestions for using this video as a learning tool. 
Use “Fast Facts” to understand the history of hula.
Use “Questions” to help students develop a greater appreciation of this important part of Hawaiian culture.
Use “Vocabulary” to identify language associated with hula.



Hawaii’s earliest hula dancers were inspired by waves on the beach, according to hula instructor Emily Kau’i Zuttermeister (0:30). What are some ways students think hula dancers imitate waves and other movements of the ocean?

Show Answer

Answers will vary!

Hula dancers move their arms, legs, and torsos in regularly swaying rhythms, like waves on the ocean. Many hulas require dancers to take only tiny steps, keeping them in the same general area and not allowing them to move across the stage. These dancers are like “standing waves” in the ocean, whose movement is steady and predictable. Even these standing waves can change with the slightest alterations in wind, temperature, or pressure. Hula dancers may express these variations with subtle movements of their wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, hips, knees, or ankles.


The ocean is a wildly varied environment, and hula is a wildly complex dance style! Hula dancers many interpret the placid ocean with gentle movements and slight changes in posture. More dramatic movements of the dancer’s arms and legs, or choreographed turns and spins, may be used to interpret the unpredictable, stormy aspects of the ocean.


When they landed on Hawaiian shores in 1820, European explorers were “shocked” by hula dancing (0:45). Can students name some differences between hula and the formal dancing popular in Europe at the time, called regency dancing?

Watch this video to familiarize yourself with regency dancing.


Think about how the dancers move, the music, and the costuming. 

Show Answer

Answers will vary!


  • Hula dancers perform as groups of men and women. In regency dance, the dancers are integrated and usually paired off as couples. Hula dancers rarely touch each other, while regency dance often requires interaction such as hand-holding.
  • The faces of hula dancers are usually much more expressive than the faces of regency dancers.
  • Hula often involves much larger movements, such as deep knee bends or arm reaches. Regency dance usually involves smaller movements.
  • Hula dancers move around the stage or dance floor much less frequently than regency dancers.


  • Hula is often accompanied by chanting, while regency dance rarely includes vocal music.
  • Music that accompanies hula is based in drums and other percussion (such as the shells wrapped around dancers’ ankles). Regency dancers dance to European classical music played on strings, harpsichords or pianos, and wind instruments.


  • Hula is usually performed barefoot, while regency dancers wear shoes and stockings.
  • Hula costumes (especially those worn by men) are less confining than regency dress—the video calls hula dancers “scantily clad”! Regency dance usually requires multiple layers of clothes.
  • Hula accessories include large flower and shell ornaments, while regency dancers wear much more subdued necklaces and earrings.
  • Hula costumes are more uniform, while regency costumes have more stylistic variation.


Despite many differences, hula and regency dance share many characteristics. Can students name some similarities shared by hula and regency dance?

Show Answer

Answers will vary!


  • Both dances involve groups of dancers, as opposed to individual soloists.
  • Dancers perform in a line or series of lines. (Regency dance can also feature circles.)
  • Dancers perform uniform, matched movements.
  • Neither dance style involves extensive jumps or leaps.


  • Musicians perform off-stage and do not directly participate in either hula or regency dance.


  • Female dancers wear loose-fitting skirts or dresses, allowing for ease of motion.
  • Hula and regency dance do not require specialized clothes or equipment, such as toe shoes or clogs.

Fast Facts

  • Hula instructor Emily Kau’i Zuttermeister tells a story about the birth of hula. (0:30) The woman Zuttermeister mentions, who went down to the beach and imitated the motion of the waves, was Hi’iaka. Hi’iaka was no ordinary woman—she was the sister of Hawaii’s legendary fire goddess, Pele. Hi’iaka is the goddess of the stormy clouds produced by her sister’s volcanoes.
  • The video spotlights the Merrie Monarch Festival, which honors a legendary king who returned hula to “its rightful place at the center of Hawaiian culture.” (2:20) This was King David Kalakaua, who encouraged a revival of many Hawaiian cultural traditions, including surfing and the martial art of lua, during his reign from 1874-1891. King David Kalakaua’s nickname was “the merry (or merrie) monarch.”

  • Hula master Kumano Palani Kuala encourages his students to make a connection between hula and indigenous spirituality. (1:48) Ancient Hawaiians also held hula sacred. The traditional goddess of the hula is Laka, and many ancient hulas were performed in her honor.


Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry


adjective, noun

modern style of hula, which developed with the influence of European culture in Hawaii during the 19th and 20th centuries.



hula school, or a long house traditionally used for hula instruction.



hula student.


adjective, noun

native Hawaiian dance, often accompanied by drumming or chanting.

'ili 'ili

Plural Noun

smooth stones that are clicked together in traditional Hawaiian dancing.



hollowed-out gourd used for traditional Hawaiian dancing.

ipu heke


two hollowed-out gourds, one secured on top of the other, used for traditional Hawaiian chanting.


adjective, noun

ancient style of hula, which developed in the Hawaiian Islands before European contact in the 19th century.


Plural Noun

wooden sticks used for traditional Hawaiian dancing.


adjective, noun

cloth made by pounding the bark of a paper mulberry or similar tree until it is flat and flexible.



hula teacher.



native Hawaiian necklace of flowers, shells, feathers, or leaves.



Hawaiian feast.

macadamia nut


edible, round, hard-shelled seed of the tropical macadamia tree, native to Australia.



traditional loincloth, or fabric draped around the hips, worn by Hawaiian men.



traditional Hawaiian song.


Plural Noun

expert hula dancers.



traditional Hawaiian chant.



traditional Hawaiian wrapped skirt.



island group in the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand, Hawaii, and Easter Island.


Plural Noun

bamboo sticks used in hula and traditional Hawaiian chant performances.

'uli 'uli

adjective, plural noun

gourds filled with seeds and topped with feathers. Used for traditional Hawaiian dances.


Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.


Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society


Elena Takaki, National Geographic Society


Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society

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