• Hula is a native Hawaiian dance. Learn about hula and watch dancers perform in this video from the National Geographic Channel.
    • Story: Birth of the Hula (start-0:45)
    • Hula is Banned (0:46-1:10)
    • Rebirth of Hula (1:11-1:45)
    • Teaching Hula (1:46-2:08)
    • Hula Dancing (2:09-2:50)
    Hula? Halau? Haumana? Huh? Use our “Vocabulary” tab to help sort out your mele from your macadamia nuts!
    1. 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?

      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.

    2. 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. 

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

      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.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    ‘auana adjective, noun

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

    halau Noun

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

    haumana Noun

    hula student.

    hula 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.

    ipu Noun

    hollowed-out gourd used for traditional Hawaiian dancing.

    ipu heke Noun

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

    kahiko adjective, noun

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

    kala'au Plural Noun

    wooden sticks used for traditional Hawaiian dancing.

    kapa adjective, noun

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

    kumu Noun

    hula teacher.

    lei Noun

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

    lu'au Noun

    Hawaiian feast.

    macadamia nut Noun

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

    malo Noun

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

    mele Noun

    traditional Hawaiian song.

    'olapa Plural Noun

    expert hula dancers.

    oli Noun

    traditional Hawaiian chant.

    pau Noun

    traditional Hawaiian wrapped skirt.

    Polynesia Noun

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

    pu'ili 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.

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