Story by Lynn Cook
Photos by Olivier Koning
Leialoha Glorious Kaleikini sits in her comfortable Island-style living room, seemingly oblivious to the Hula Preservation Society video camera that is recording her words. A tiny microphone is tucked in the petals of a pikake lei draped across the lace bodice of her classic hula mu‘u gown. The ceiling fan is on low, gently moving the curtains and the memories on a quiet morning in the sleepy Honolulu neighborhood where she lives, Kapahulu.
“What we did was dance,” remembers Kaleikini. Her hands sweep up and out as she talks, telling stories of her days dancing hula in Europe, South America and New York. “Some of us thought of other careers. I was going to be a nurse. But then I would never have seen the world.” Kaleikini, who is in her 70s now, was one of the famous Hula Nani Girls, gracious and elegant Hawaiian women who took hula to the world in the 1950s and ’60s. The Hula Nani Girls created precision lines of dancers that moved in unison, and their impeccable performances continue to inspire modern hula today. Across the globe, they introduced people to true Hawaiian culture and dance.
Kaleikini lived hula as a child. She talks fondly of the old days, when money was not an issue. “We just went to dance when we were called,” she remembers.
“If the job paid $6, each dancer got two and took it home to the family. We had no bank accounts, just some quarters on the dresser.” Making a pua (flower) gesture, she says she still dances in Honolulu when some of the Hula Nani dancers get together. “If someone calls, we just go where they need us. We keep dancing to stay young.” She steps away from her memories for a moment and leans toward the woman who is recording her words. “I’m so glad you folks are doing this,” Kaleikini tells her. “Lots of us are gone, you know.”