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Where EAST meets the Northwest

MEN OF HULA. Na Kamalei: The Men of Hula, a film by Independent Lens, introduces viewers to hula master Robert Cazimero and his unique all-male hula school during the celebration of its 30th anniversary of reviving the art of men dancing the hula. Pictured are the men of Halau Na Kamalei throwing leis into a volcano (left) and dancing at the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival. (Photos courtesy of Lehua Films)

From The Asian Reporter, V21, #09 (May 2, 2011), page 15.

Dance like men

Na Kamalei: The Men of Hula

Directed by Lisette Marie Flanary

Produced by Lisette Marie Flanary and Keo Woolford

Distributed by Lehua Films

Airing Thursday, May 5 on Oregon Public Broadcasting Plus

By Josephine Bridges

The Asian Reporter

Dare to hula. Leave your shame at home," an old Hawai’ian proverb encourages. Na Kamalei: The Men of Hula follows Robert Cazimero — legendary master teacher and founder of Na Kamalei, the only all-male hula school in Hawai’i — and his dancers as they celebrate the school’s 30th anniversary in preparation for the largest hula competition in the world, the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival.

The school won the competition in 1975, but times have changed, and women and younger men’s groups have been favored in recent years. Can this band of enthusiastic underdogs — 18 to 55 years in age — led by the tough and tender Cazimero triumph over time? There’s only one way to find out.

Hula, originally an offshoot of lua, a "bone-breaking and joint-dislocating" fighting art taught to chiefs in the old days, has survived both missionaries and wealthy white tourists. The former attempted to ban the traditional dance while the latter tried to reduce it to entertainment. Na Kamalei: The Men of Hula is a tribute both to the strength and resilience of the sacred dance of Hawai’i and to the discipline and delight of the men who dance it.

Na Kamalei director Lisette Marie Flanary is herself a dancer and teacher of hula, and it shows. Kitschy tourist footage, interviews with Cazimero and the dancers of Na Kamalei, and rehearsal segments are interwoven with the mesmerizing music of the island paradise. The result is riveting.

Cazimero uses the analogy of sending three dancers grocery shopping to describe the perseverance he seeks: "Kaulana, if I were to send you to the store and say ‘get me eggs,’ if the store didn’t have eggs, you’d be like me. You’d come home and go, ‘They were sold out.’ Keo would go to the second and third store. Bully would go around the island … Bully gonna bring them back. What you’re not doing is you’re not bringing it back. You’re not bringing back the eggs. You sort of like went, but you never find them, so you said, ‘Well, okay, no more on the whole island.’" Then he concludes with self-disclosure, reaching out to his youngest dancer, "I used to do that."

"Hula taught me how to love more," says firefighter Edward "Babooze" Hanohano. Filmed at the dinner table, Hanohano’s son admits, "I don’t show how much I am proud of him, but I am. It makes me feel good that my dad does what he loves and he can do it proudly." Wiping away tears, Hanohano adds, "It touches my heart to hear my son say that."

Tension builds as Cazimero and the dancers of Na Kamalei prepare for the competition by printing loincloths, sacrificing to the goddess of the volcano, and twining flowers into costume adornments.

When the first night of the competition — Kahiko, ancient music and dancing — finally arrives, Cazimero urges his students: "When you walk inside there, you still make sure that you’re friendly, and then when we get on stage, then we attack."

Before the second night’s performance of Auana, with stringed instruments and a more modern style of dancing, he reminds the dancers: "Like how we made them cry last night, without really realizing it, tonight we want them to smile."

If it’s crying and smiling you’re looking for, if it brings you joy to watch masculine and graceful dancers kissing and hugging and laughing and weeping, unafraid to show the depth of their feelings of love for their islands, their art form, and each other, you need look no further.

Na Kamalei: The Men of Hula airs at 3:00am on Thursday, May 5 on Oregon Public Broadcasting Plus. To learn more, call (503) 293-1982, or visit <> or <>.