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Interisland Terminal x Sig Zane Designs Collaboration

May 6th, 2011

Promotional video by Henry Mochida and text by yours truly for the upcoming Interisland Terminal x Sig Zane Designs event in June: ITO:Interisland Travelwrights.

Stimulating Growth:

Hula and its effect on a Nalani Kanaka‘ole, Sig and Kuha‘o Zane

For Nalani Kanakaole, Sig Zane and Kuha‘o, hula is like photosynthesis– a natural chemical reaction which stimulates growth and nourishes life. This Hawaiian dance/cultural practice has allowed their ‘ohana to thrive thoughout the years. Spiritually. Emotionally. Professionally. Hula is the carbon dioxide, water and sunlight of their family tree.

Nalani Kanakaole is a kumu hula (hula teacher) of Halau o Kekuhi. Martial arts have dojos where practitioners train in a particular kind of combat. In the same vein, hula has halau where a certain style of dance is practiced. Halau o Kekuhi practices a style of hula called aiha’a, which literally means: To be low to the ground. It has been perpetuated for seven generations. While their art form is ancient, Nalani is widely known to incorporate contemporary ideas in order to evolve the Hawaiian culture.

“I think the school of hula that I come from is ongoing,” explains Nalani who is the third generation of modern kumu hula in Halau o Kekuhi. She is also a judge at the Merrie Monarch Festival. “It has dances that were choreographed 300 years ago and is kept in that form, but it doesnʻt mean that you cannot create on that same form or format. The thing about the school of hula that I come from is its ongoing and we do have volcanoes that happen now in this period, and mele (songs) that are written for that so I do incorporate that.”

Nalani, who is the daughter of legendary Hawaiian scholar and kumu hula Edith Kanakaole, says her approach as a kumu hula is holistic. She not only teaches Halau o Kekuhi dances and songs, but all of the related arts to hula.

“You need to walk the talk,” she says of being a hula teacher and an indigenous fine artist. “When [the students] start to design their ohe kapala (bamboo printmaking) and they make their own stories it becomes them at this time so that’s how I incoporate modern design.”

During this year’s Merrie Monarch Festival on Ho‘ike night, Nalani’s students are using ‘ohe kapala (bamboo printmaking) on kapa (bark cloth made from the wauke tree) for their regalia/costumes. This fabric is significant because it is made by modern practitoners like Aunty Marie McDonald and Dalani Tanahy, and it’s also an example of Nalani’s intergrated teaching style in Halau o Kekuhi.

“Usually my son does it on the computer better than he does on the bamboo,” jokes Nalani about Kuha‘o and ohe kapala. Kuha‘o dances with Halau o Kekuhi and is a widely recognized graphic designer. Both mother and son know that hula and the related arts are the foundation for Kuha‘o’s career.

“It’s all about the process, especially if you’re a designer,” says Nalani of her son’s work. Kuha‘o echoes his mother’s statement, attesting much of his professional success to creative processes he learned in Halau o Kekuhi.

“Learning all of that process definitely has a part into the graphic design process because I know how to achieve certain looks that I want to get and certain textures,” explains Kuha‘o. “If you can weave together the concepts that were already culturally practiced way back in the day then that just makes your Aloha shirt that much more relevant to the culture.”

Kuha‘o dances front and center when Halau o Kekuhi perfoms. This spot on stage is reserved for the most skilled dancers in the troupe. His place in the halau and family carries a lot of prestige and kuleana (responsibility). Kuha‘o is the only child of Nalani and Sig Zane.

“When you’re born into a hula family you have a choice or don’t have a choice– and most times you don’t have a choice,” says Nalani. “We tell the kids you have to own it in order for you to have it.”

As a kid Kuha‘o didn’t own it. He was actually over it for a long time. Kuha‘o shunned hula because of the social stigmas associated with the cultural practice. It’s widely– and falsely– believed that all men who dance hula are homosexual.

“I started late because I told my mom that hula was for mahu (homosexuals) and I caught cracks,” admits Kuha‘o who started dancing when he was eight. That was a long time ago, and he dispels the gay misconception of hula with every pretty girl dated.

“I wish more guys would dance hula because it would put you more in touch with your culture,” laments Kuha‘o.

His father, legendary Aloha wear designer Sig Zane, was immersed in Hawaiiana through hula as a member of Halau o Kekuhi. In addition, Sig and Nalani fell in love through this culutral practice, and conceived Kuha‘o. Aside from the family bonds that hula has brought Sig, it has also provided professional success. Sig Zane Designs is an Aloha wear staple for professionals, performers and everybody who values looking good in Hawai‘i.

More than financial gains, Sig’s work as a fashion designer is to share the Hawaiian culture. Like Sig Zane Designs Aloha wear, hula is also a cultural exchange. What Sig, Nalani and Kuha‘o bring to traditional fashion and art forms is a breath of fresh air and new energy.

“I think I’m very traditional,” says Sig Zane, “I’m very tough on keeping that mold I learned, but at the same time I’m definitely open to the new because I think that in that new we continue to attract other people to view and then they get to hear that story.”

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