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Ross School Delves into the Realm of Hula

Mentor Artist and Kumu Hula Shawna Alapa’i recently concluded a successful residency at Ross School K-8, sharing: “Hula found its way to Ross School and it was a smooth, flowing journey. Chanting, percussion and melodic tunes could be heard down the halls every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings and it brought smiles to many faces.  It was the first time for Hula to be taught in Ross School and the students grew right into it!” Through dance and music, Shawna and her students journeyed to ancient sites throughout the island of Hawai’i, retraced the navigational routes from Tahiti, Hawaii, and New Zealand, where they learned the cultural protocols of a Maori Haka and gained a cultural perspective and understanding of the stories of Maui, one of Hawaii’s legendary icons.

When the Student Performance day came, Shawna says, “I could feel the energy of Aloha buzzing all around us! The kids were excited as their parents and guests took their seats.  The kids all looked fabulous with their silk flower lei on. Kindergarten classes went first with their Hula,  A Hilo Au.  They chanted their hearts out and enjoyed being up on the stage (a star is born) … a very hard act to follow!”

She continues, “However, the rest of the classes stepped up to the lu’au plate and all did fantastic! We chanted, danced and delved into the sacred realm of Hula and reached our destination with awareness, grace, power and joy.” Shawna and Youth in Arts had a wonderful time working with Ross School and are looking forward to sharing and learning with these talented students again.

“Hulo to Ross School for such a wonderful opportunity!”

Hana Hou! Let’s Do It Again, Sonoma Mtn. School!

Hula made a return to Sonoma Mountain School in the Fall and we had a blast!

We began our 12 week Hawaiian Dance, Music and Storytelling with a very sweet sense of familiarity from the students.  As we began to dance, their movements and steps all came back and took on a more solidified understanding and knowing of Hula.  From grades 1-6, the kids easily slipped back into moving and connecting their motions and steps which allowed us to enjoy moving together and working on synchronizing our motions and steps.  The school Hula that I chose is from the movie Moana, entitled, We Know The Way.  The song’s lyrics speak about the ancient Polynesian Wayfinding principals and practices, and embrace the cultural teaching of, “Know who you are and where you come from, in order to know where you’re going on your Life Journey”.  The movie’s main character is a girl who finds her inner strength and courage through the teachings of her family and culture. This is a powerful message that I wanted to share with the kids via dancing Hula and with their work in learning the choreography and our sharing of cultural stories, I believe it was instilled in them.  In our Hawaiian Culture, we have a practice called, Anoano, meaning, planting of the seeds.  Basically, we plant seeds of positive thoughts and ways of being in the world that aligns to a Higher Good, as we learn our different daily cultural practices, one of them being Hula and Storytelling.

For the youngest/newest students in grades TK & K, I did storytelling that entailed a Hula as well, and used props such as costumes, Hula instruments, and easy Hawaiian language words.  Young minds are SO amazing!  The kids seemed to absorb the stories, names of characters (even with Hawaiian names and words!) and teachings so easily!  They would remember the names weeks after I told a story!

Our school assembly finale was amazing!  We ended the 12 weeks with a culminating performance of all grades, sharing what they learned with each other and many parents in attendance as well.  We began with the TK/K & 1st graders doing their Hula on the stage, which they LOVED dancing on! Then the 2nd & 3rd grades performed their Hula that they learned together, followed by the 4th graders, who danced with short Kala’au or hula sticks as they chanted along with their dance.  The 5th and 6th graders really worked hard on learning their Maori Poi Ball and Haka routine, a new combo than last year, and their hard work showed!  there were 52 girls doing the Maori Poi Balls and about 30 boys doing the Haka.  It was a powerful and beautiful performance from them.  We finished the performance with the whole school dancing to the Moana song, We Know The Way.  That was about 450 students dancing all together!  Such a fabulous sight to experience!  Many parents came up to me afterwards to thank me for teaching their child and that was such a wonderful gift for me.

Sonoma Mountain School rocks! Mahalo to the Staff and especially to Michele Gochberg for bringing me back.  It was such an honor.

Me ke aloha,

Shawna Alapa’i

Artist In Residence


Shawna Alapa’i brings Hula to Sonoma Mountain Elementary

Hula artist, Shawna Alapa’i and her troupe of dancers put on a beautiful evening performance at Sonoma Mountain Elementary in Petaluma.  This marks Shawna’s second year at Sonoma Mountain, and it was wonderful to see the school community come out on a chilly Friday to support her.  Shawna sang and told Hawaiian folktales, as her dancers performed several traditional Hula dances.  She wowed the crowd with her demonstration of the Poi Ball dance, which she shared she used to do with the balls lit on fire!  The event concluded with the students doing a impromptu performance of their “Moana Dance” for their proud parents.  Thank you Shawna for a lovely evening!

Hula returns to Sonoma Mountain School

In February students hit the ground and took off with Hula and Teaching Artist Shawna Alapai returning for a second time to every classroom at Sonoma Mountain Elementary School. 

It was wonderful to see many familiar (but more mature) faces, and as we started dancing, I could see and feel the familiarity coming through in the steps and movements of the kids.  We’ve been very busy learning some Hawaiian language words, meanings, history, myths and cultural practices along with the dances.  I love to have the kids sing along while they dance and they’re really using their voices to help express their Hula!

We’re delving into a variety of dance styles this year, with an ancient chant (danced with canoe paddles) that tells the story of the migration on double hulled canoes from Tahiti to Hawai’i…anyone see Moana???  Then, we’re exploring a bit of the Maori culture as we learn a Hula Noho, or sitting dance to the song Hoe Ana.  I’ve incorporated the kala’au or hula sticks into this Hula and the kids really like using them to keep rhythm and express their motions at the same time.  The 6th graders have really stepped their Hula up a few notches, as they learn a Maori Haka and Poi Ball piece.

My Accompanist, Stephanie Behasa, made 35 sets of Maori Poi Balls for the girls to use.  At first they were a bit intimidated, thinking it was too difficult, but I assured them that all they had to do was practice.  Well, guess what? They’ve got it!  It was such a delight to see their eyes light up when they achieved the routine, and to feel their absolute enthusiasm as we continue to progress in the style.  The power of a Maori Haka is so infectious, that I decided to share that piece with all grades, K-6, and it’s a HIT!  They all can’t wait to run through it when we’re working together and when their teachers come in, the surprise on their faces as their students put their all into the dance, is priceless.

Sonoma Mountain School is rockin’ it out of the Multi Purpose Room every week, and when we do our school performance on April 28th, the hills surrounding the school will be vibrating to the tunes of Hawaii and Aotearoa (New Zealand)!


Hula lives at Harding!

SAlapaiWritten by YIA Mentor Artist Shawna Alapa’i

From September to November 2014, Harding Elementary 4th and 5th graders learned authentic Hula, including history, cultural practices, arts and crafts and vocalizing–in addition to dancing.  The kids were all so enthusiastic throughout the classrooms, and fully participated in everything.  They asked really thoughtful questions about the history and even taught ME something: lava is called lava only when it’s above ground, otherwise it’s called magma!  I probably learned this as a young girl, but in Hula, we refer to it all as lava, so I totally forgot! They loved that I told them they taught me this…LOL!




Our program consisted of learning five dance and chant pieces.  Their vocalizing was really impressive, especially from one of the boys, who HARDING 2knew how to use his diaphragm to belt out the chant.  It was solid!  We danced about Pele, known as the Volcano Goddess, and her migration with family members from Tahiti to Hawai’i, aboard great double-hulled canoes.  I explained the metaphoric aspect of this Pele form, and how it relates to the magma moving throughout the earth, which is a great journey as well!  Then we danced the popular Lilo and Stitch theme song and another ancient chant.  This chant used our bodies as the percussion instrument while we gestured and chanted.  Rounding out our learning, we began and ended with dances specifically used for an entrance and exit in a formal performance.  These two dances depicted journeying in canoes.  It was a great experience working with the Harding Elementary School and I look forward more work in the future.


This Hula residency is part of Youth in Arts “Arts Unite Us” program at Harding Elementary, where we are serving all of the students with visual and performing arts programs focused on inclusion, accessibility and appreciating differences.  Thanks to the Thomas Long Foundation for generously funding this program.


Hawaiian Music and Dance enriches youth!

Aloha from Sonoma Mountain Elementary School in Petaluma!



This is the first time that the school has brought Hawaiian Cultural Arts to their students and we’re having a BLAST! I’m working with Keiki (children) in the Kindergarten, First and Second grade classes and despite the age differences, they’re all really moving with intention and joy as I teach them a few Hula’s that incorporate using their voices in chanting, playing a Hawaiian musical instrument and dancing.

It’s no secret that every student’s favorite Hula is a song from the movie blockbuster, Lilo and Stitch. The Mele (song) and Hula (dance) tells a story of Hawai’is last King, David La’amea Kamanakaupu’u Kauliluaikeanu Mahinulani Nalo’ia’ehuokalani Lumialani Kalakaua…the kids ask me to say his full name at least once a week, and I love seeing their eyes get huge and light up when I do. The title of the song for King Kalakaua is He Mele Inoa No Lilo. So many of the kids went home after our first day of lessons and watched the Lilo and Stitch movie and told me that when the song came on, they jumped up and danced what they had learned. How great is that?!

They now tell me that they practice it at home “all the time” and they even dance it for their family and friends.

Having fun with the Kala'au (sticks)

Having fun with the Kala’au (sticks)

That just made my heart smile! The Hawaiian Culture lives on, in the homes of Petaluma, and in the hearts of many. At this point, we’re nearing the end of our 10 week program, which culminates with a school performance on May 2nd. The kids are getting really excited, and in all the classes yesterday I could see and feel a definite focus and effort being put into their dances and chants. The steps that they’ve learned, a koholo, ‘ami and ku’i are vibrant and more precise, and their instrument playing is really getting into synch! They’ve learned to play the ipu (a gourd drum), kala’au (rhythmic sticks made from guava wood), ‘ili’ili (smooth ocean rocks) and the ‘ukulele. It’s a short time frame to teach a whole song on the ‘ukulele to total beginners, but they’re hanging in there and we actually made it happen yesterday! I’m totally enjoying my time with the keiki and at the school.

The sacred cliff at Kilauea Volcano

The sacred cliff at Kilauea Volcano

At the beginning and end of each class every week, there’s always a handful of kids that run up to greet me with a hug or to say goodbye with a hug…without knowing it, they’re perpetuating a Hawaiian Cultural practice that has been a part of our way of life for hundreds of years. It’s the sharing of Aloha. To witness and experience this through the teachings of this Hawaiian Music and Dance program, is what it’s all about for me as a Kumu Hula, or Hula Teacher because I know that my culture’s values and teachings have made an imprint on these keiki’s lives. I am filled with gratitude for Youth In Arts and Sonoma Mountain Elementary for this opportunity! Mahalo a nui loa…profoundly grateful and deeply touched.

Aloha, Kumu Hula Shawna Alapa’i