In the auditorium of an elementary school on San Francisco's Potrero Hill hula classes begin not so much with a bang as with a BOOM BOOM: the sound of two full-palm slaps on the side of a large hourglass-shaped Hawaiian gourd.
Sitting on the stage, his muscular legs encircling the gourd, is Patrick Makuakane, who is half Hawaiian and has a shock of dark hair, obsidian eyes, and a baritone voice. Makuakane spends his days as a personal trainer at the nearby World Gym, but in the evenings he is a kumu hula. In Hawaiian the term literally means "dance teacher," but its connotations are more nearly those of "guru." Facing him tonight are thirty-odd students, in five staggered rows, ranging in age from eight to eighty. The women wear sweatshirts and gathered cotton skirts, the men T-shirts and baggy shorts. Together, his students present the multicultural face of mainland hula. Among them are Luisa, a wiry Latina in a gray-blue baseball cap with the Nike logo; U'ilani, a native Hawaiian with striking cheekbones, a cascade of thick black hair, and tailored pants poking out below her hibiscus-yellow skirt; Calvin, a fine-boned Japanese violin player who chants perfectly in key; and this writer, a haole, or Caucasian, who grew up in Hawaii but has lived in California for twenty-one years.
Known as the Monday Night Class, we are part of Makuakane's halau hula, or traditional school of dance, with 160 members from all over northern California. My halau is one of dozens in the Bay Area, and one of hundreds on the mainland. The ancient art of Hawaiian dance is stepping far beyond its origins in the Pacific archipelago.