Starting out as a small event at Aala Park more than 30 years ago, the Queen Liliuokalani Keiki Hula Competition has since blossomed into what it is today – the state’s most well-established hula competitions for children. Every year, hundreds from 25 hula halau (hula troupes) gather in the footsteps of their kupuna (elders) as they share the beauty of this ancient Hawaiian dance with locals and visitors alike.

Dancers from Keolalaulani Halau Olapa O Laka, wearing traditional kahiko costumes.

The three-day event during the summer starts out with a competition for soloist dancers, followed by hula kahiko and hula auana (traditional and modern hula). It’s a definite highlight for any participating halau, whose dancers practice for months leading up to the event. Winners are announced at the end of each day, but no matter if the halau wins or not, they’re still showered with lei and gifts after their performances by family and friends.

I had the chance to watch my nieces perform in the competition this summer and was so impressed by how poised and disciplined everyone was. This is a good chance for visitors to experience both styles of hula, as mentioned earlier: hula kahiko and auana. In kahiko, dancers are always barefoot, with ti leaf incorporated in their skirts and adornments. They also use traditional instruments, such as the ipu, or single gourd drum, and uliuli, or feathered gourd rattles.

Carrying ipu, a traditional Hawaiian instrument used in hula kahiko.

Auana, on the other hand, is a representation of hula from the 19th and 20th centuries, as hula evolved under Western influence. This style is accompanied by song and modern instruments, such as the guitar, ukulele, steel guitar and bass.

If you’re on Oahu during the summer, check out the Keiki Hula Competition. Tickets go on sale prior to the event but are also available the day of.

KEIKI HULA COMPETITION • 3-day event during summer • Neal Blaisdell Center, 777 Ward Ave., Honolulu, HI 96814 • $10-13 tickets • 808-521-6905

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