Sun, Jan. 19

The Power of Hula <br><i>Hawaiian culture, language and tradition finds home in Cottonwood</i>

VVN/Dean Borgwardt

SYLVIA Rodrigo of Jerome watches the graceful move-ments of classmate Linda C. Stover during a beginner’s hula class.

"Every time I watched hula I cried," says the Cottonwood resident, recalling the numerous hula festivals she attended in Hawaii.

It wasn’t until last February that the opportunity arose for her to finally take hula classes under the experienced eye of Kehau Chrisman who moved to Cottonwood in late 2003.

A native Hawaiian, Kehau (pronounced Kay-how) teaches both modern and traditional hula as well as shares her knowledge of Hawaiian culture, language and values with her students. She is a kumu hula, or hula master. Kumu means source or foundation, and is a title bestowed only upon those who prove themselves an accomplished hula dancer. Kehau certainly has proven herself worthy with more than 20 years experience performing and learning from kumu hulas. She began her teaching career in 1997.

Prior to attending Kehau’s hula class, Ginger thought she was the only one in the Verde Valley with a love of hula. She soon discovered a group of women who shared her enthusiasm, a love of Hawaii and its culture. A "sisterhood" binds its members and new arrivals are immediately welcomed into the "’ohana," or family. Each class begins with dancers greeting one another with a hug and smile. The evening ends with "aloha," or love.

It’s this "sisterhood" that keeps Ginger and her classmates coming back.

"It allowed me to make new friends and it keeps me connected with the islands," says Ginger, office manager of Verde Valley Concert Association. "I see Hawaii in my mind when I dance."

Ginger, who returned to Hawaii for two weeks in November, enjoys the weekly classes because of its many physical, mental and spiritual benefits.

"I want to dance every day. With most exercises you don’t want to do it everyday," she explains.

She has noticed physical benefits as well such as more firm muscles and an increased endurance level.

Family Nurse Practitioner Linda C. Stover enrolled in Kehau’s beginner’s class about three months ago. She also admires the Hawaiian culture and language and finds hula offers a healthy pastime that allows her to exercise her mind and body in concert.

"I have found the discipline and additional cultural information to be a nice surprise to being involved in this class," the 49-year-old shares.

Diane Wilson of Cottonwood was one of the first students to enroll in Kehau’s class last February. Despite suffering from fibromyalgia (chronic pain in the muscles and soft tissues), she has noticed increased physical strength.

"I’m stronger. I could hardly go up and down stairs but now I have more energy," she says. "Mentally it has sharpened my mind."

Diane never took a professional dance class before and is already in the advanced hula group. For many students, the Hawaiian culture doesn’t end after class. In fact, classmates listen to Hawaiian music at home and adopt many of its traditions in their personal life. For Diane, she has mellowed and made her family a priority.

"It becomes part of your life. The joy of doing it [hula] has changed my attitude. It has made my life less stressful," Diane declares. "It’s all about culture, dance and family. We are all family…’ohana."

Another aspect of learning to hula is grasping the Hawaiian language and culture. Kehau asks her students to look up the Hawaiian words for each new song that they learn so they can translate the meaning through movement. After all, the hula is about storytelling. Although the Hawaiian alphabet has only 13 letters, many of the songs have hidden meanings. While some call it "homework," Diane quickly points out that it’s not drudgery.

"It’s not work, it’s learning," she offers. "I can look at words now and know what they mean."

Classmate Ginger Lindquist agrees.

"I’m constantly learning the language and the culture."

Students also learn to make their own lei, a wreath or garland usually made of flowers or leaves, using an 8-ply braid method. Because they’re on the mainland and don’t have access to native plants or flowers, the leis are made from bright orange yarn, Kehau explains. The students also create their own costumes before performing. Her students will be dancing Feb. 17 when the Hawaiian musical group HAPA sings at the Orpheum Theater, 15 W. Aspen St., in Flagstaff. Tickets are $20 for reserved seats and general admission is $15 in advance or $20 day of the show. For tickets and times, call (928) 556-1580 or visit

The "sisterhood" welcomes women of all ages, shapes and sizes. Kehau currently has more than 40 students throughout Cottonwood, Prescott Valley and Flagstaff. Students range in age from 8 to 70.

Beginning adult hula classes for women are held every Monday, 6-7:30 p.m., at the American Heritage Academy's Music Room (Room 8), 2030 E. Cherry St., in Cottonwood. The beginning men’s class meets Mondays at 7:30 p.m. Cost is $40 per month.

Hula classes for seniors (age 60 and older) is offered Wednesdays, 2:30-3:30 p.m., at the Cottonwood Civic Center, 805 N. Main St., in Old Town. Cost is $30 per month. Keiki hula classes for children ages 9-13 are available every Wednesday, 3:45-4:45 p.m. This class also meets at the Civic Center. Cost is $6 per class or $22 for a four-class cluster.

As classes are ongoing, call Kehau Chrisman at (928) 639-4683 to find out when the best week is to start.

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