story by Rose Kahele
photo by MACARIO
Most of the diners at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel’s Tuesday night lu‘au probably have no idea that, in between the Samoan fire dancer and the “Hukilau” and “Little Brown Gal” sing-alongs, they’ll be witnessing some world-class, ancient Hawaiian dance. Nani Lim Yap wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We bring authenticity to the show in our hula kahiko (ancient hula),” says Nani, who also serves as both emcee and primary singer. “We try to make sure that our dances are Big Island-oriented, and we make sure that we understand them very well.”
Not that anyone had any doubts on either of those scores: Nani is part of the Lim ‘ohana, a highly respected, multigenerational family of musicians hailing from the North Kohala district. She’s also kumu hula of Na Lei O Kaholoku, which performs at the lu‘au and, as it happens, was this year’s overall champion at Hilo’s annual Merrie Monarch Hula Festival. The hula troupe also produced this year’s individual Miss Aloha Hula champion—Nani’s niece, Bernice Alohanamakanamaikalanimai Davis-Lim. What’s more, Na Lei O Kaholoku won the wahine (women’s) overall title in 2005 and 2004 and twice in the ’90s.
The Mauna Kea lu‘au is the oldest resort lu‘au on the Big Island, having run continuously since 1965, when it was managed by one of Nani’s aunts. Nani began her own performing career there when she was twelve, and took over as lead of the show in 1986. Following this year’s Merrie Monarch, Yap announced that her halau would take a break from competition for several years. But that doesn’t mean that she or her dancers will be abandoning their pursuit of excellence any time soon.
“I think there are a lot of dancers who do the hula just for the sheer beauty of it. For them, you don’t see it in their eyes.
You don’t feel it here,” says Nani, tapping her chest. “You should also be doing hula to understand the dance and share that understanding with others—I don’t believe there is any difference between performing for tourists who don’t know any of the movements, or for judges who know them all. It’s all about the sharing.”
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel Lu‘au