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Hula Unites Friends and Former Classmates: Manalani and Hulali

By Wendy Osher

When friends and former classmates, Tori “Hulali” Canha and Manalani Mili Hokoana English, stepped onto the stage on Thursday night, they did so separately, but with similar intent.

“I felt honored from day one when I was asked to represent my halau,” said Manalani, who dances for Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka, “but it was an even bigger step representing my family, my kupuna (ancestors), and most of all, my moku (island).”

As for Hulali, “Her goal, always, at the forefront, was making kumu proud, making her halau sisters proud, and making our ‘ohana (family) proud, and I really, truly believe she accomplished that,” said Sandy Canha, Hulali’s mom.

In a one-two sweep, the Maui hula dancers topped the solo portion of the 48th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, Hawai’i.  Hulali, who dances for Halau Ke’alaokamaile under the direction of Kumu Keali’i Reichel, earned 1071 points and the title of Miss Aloha Hula 2011; Manalani finished just three points away, for first runner-up.

Manalani Mili Hokoana English of Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka dances to Mi Nei, a song in which the dancer searches from the uplands to the sea for that perfect, and true love. Photo by Wendy Osher.

Manalani Mili Hokoana English of Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka performs He Mele Inoa No Haumea. It was one of two solo dances she performed at the 2011 Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, Hawaii.

The two hula dancers are from different halau, but performed together as classmates while attending high school at the Kahamehameha, Maui campus in Pukalani.   During their graduation in 2007, Hulali performed an oli while Manalani danced a hula selected for the occasion.

Four years later, their familiarity and friendship made it easy to root each other on.  “We were so excited for Maui and each other,” said Manalani.  “If anyone had to win, I would have hoped it was her–we both felt the same way.  We were so ha’aheo (proud) to support each other,” said Manalani.

“We’re so proud that Maui did so well,” said Kahulu Maluo, co-kumu (with her sister Napua Makua) for Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka.

In addition to the solo success for Maui, Halau Ke’alaokamaile won the Overall Perpetual title at the event by garnering a first place finish in the Wahine Kahiko and Wahine Overall divisions, and second place in the Wahine ‘Auana division.  Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka finished fifth in the women’s Kahiko, just one point behind a three-way tie for second.

On the 15th Anniversary of Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka, “It was like coming full circle for us,” said Maluo.  Manalani began with the halau when she was just nine years old.  Now at 22, and with nearly 14 years of halau training under her belt, “she has done her family and kumus proud.  We can celebrate all of those years,” said Maluo.

In addition to their years of hula practice, the dancers spent months prior to the event, readying themselves with research and traditional physical and mental preparation.  “I did a lot of projects in order to allow myself to be focused and to be in the mindset,” said Manalani.  “It definitely was worth every second of training. It felt amazing, like I was on cloud nine,” she said.

Now in their early 20′s, both are balancing their passion for hula with pursuits of degrees in higher education.  Hulali graduated with a B.A. in Hawaiian Studies and is currently in the Master’s Program for Hawaiian Language at the University of Hawaii.  Manalani will begin training in the radiology technician program at Kapiolani Community College on O’ahu in August.

“Aside from maintaining a 4.0 G.P.A. at the University of Hawai’i, she was equally as committed to hula, and was home once a month for her hula practice–and sometimes, three times a month.  Her commitment to hula never subsided in any way, but her academics never suffered either–those are two top priorities for her,” said Canha of her daughter.

For Hulai, she follows in the footsteps of her hula sister Henohea Kane who won the title of Miss Aloha Hula in 2009. “Just knowing how busy she (Henohea) was, I guess we should anticipate that Hulali will be as heavily involved in whatever her responsibilities are,” said Sandy Canha.

As the newest hula ambassador of the world, Hulali carried out her first task by participating in the Merrie Monarch Parade in Hilo Town over the weekend.  “I know she’s looking forward to it and I hope it’s everything she ever dreamed of,” said Sandy Canha.

"I hope it's everything she ever dreamed of,"said Sandy Canha (left), of her daughter, Tori "Hulali" Canha, Miss Aloha Hula 2011 (right).

***Check out our other Merrie Monarch Week Stories:

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