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Na Kamalei: The Men of Hula

    By Chelsea Hale. September 24, 2012 - 11:20 am


Amid the buzz emanating from Fort Street Mall is a treasure that often goes unnoticed by most Hawaii Pacific University students. The Viewpoints film series offers free weekly screenings of independent and university-related films for HPU students.

At the Viewpoints film series kickoff event Sept. 7, a roomful of students followed the journey of an all-male hula school led by legendary entertainer Robert Cazimero.

Released in 2006, “Na Kamalei: The Men of Hula” marks the halau’s 30th anniversary (founded in 1975) and chronicles one year with the men on their journey to winning first place at the Merrie Monarch Festival, the world’s largest hula competition.

The film, a 2008 Independent Lens Audience Award winner, explores the revival of men who dance hula through the examination of past and present male roles in Hawaiian culture. Weaving the personal stories of the dancers with an inside look at the halau’s arduous rehearsals and intimate preparations for competition, “Na Kamalei: The Men of Hula” displays the men’s joy of dancing and emphasizes the importance of an age-old cultural tradition.

The beauty of the film lies in its effortless expression of hula as an all-encompassing way of life while breaking the stereotype of grass skirt-wearing hula girls.

“Hula is so much more than just a dance,” filmmaker Lisette Marie Flannery said during the discussion at Warner Auditorium, where the film was shown. “It’s a whole way of life where the dancers become your family. It’s a lifetime commitment.”

Expounding on this, kumu hula Cazimero shared his experience of 30 years with Na Kamalei at Chai’s Island Bistro at Aloha Tower Marketplace that same evening. As we sat at the dimly-lit table, Cazimero laughed and sighed as he told me about the start of the halau.

“When I first began teaching I was only 25 years old. At that time the most challenging part of leading the halau was getting a bunch of rambunctious teens from ages 15 to 18 to listen to me,” Cazimero said. “But every day of 37 years has been rewarding so far.”

In the film, Flannery exemplifies this sense of pride by capturing the pure love and passion that radiates from the halau both in and out of competition. Cazimero, who has felt this love for more than three decades, had difficulty choosing just one of the most gratifying parts of teaching.

“If I had to choose three, I would say first the rehearsals where we dance better than any other performance we’ve participated in. Second, knowing that our group is a party group. If one works harder, we all work harder,” Cazimero said. “Finally, because of the respect I get from my students, the honor and respect I have for my own kumu (Maiki Aiu Lake) is over the top.”

Regardless of the difficulties it has faced along the way, Na Kamalei has stood strong, proving that the ancient art form still thrives among the male population.

“None of this has been a real Cinderella story,” Cazimero said. “We don’t always find support from our family and friends like we’d expect … But if there is something you really want, you have to pursue it.”

Indeed, “Na Kamalei: The Men of Hula” is a celebration of perseverance.

“I hope that my film might encourage more men to dance,” Flannery said in a profile for the Independent Lens film festival. “‘Dare to hula, leave your shame at home’ is a powerful message of being proud of who you are and where you come from.”


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