Fréjus, France

Fréjus, France
Aqueduc Romain

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hula in France

As I begin this I am ending a day of 26° C, in mid-October! There are very few deciduous trees so not many crinkly brown leaves blowing about in the Mistral. The cypress and olive trees, and the rough redness of the Esterels say “desert” more than “tropical.” But the palm trees and sandy beach of my neighborhood whisper “Hawai’i.”

One would think that Oregon, being far from Hawai’i and on the Mainland, is not the place to find Aloha. But the little halau to which I belong says different. Hula O Kahawai is a big part of my Ohana and it was hard to leave it. Months ago, in dreaming of this year away, I had the inspiration to find a way to bring hula and aloha with me. I knew I would keep contact with my hula sisters. I knew I would feel the pangs of longing when they planned events, new dances and costumes. I also knew I would carry with me the knowledge, skills and wisdom I have gained thus far. I promised myself I would practice, not wanting to forget, to feel clumsy, to fall behind. But when I even dared dream of teaching hula in France it all seemed to feel right. For years I’ve had these separate interests--French and hula--here was my chance to have them meet.

Those who know me, know I will pick up and dance just about anywhere. In Hawai’i it’s easy. Just listen for a song I know and I’ll dance it--happy hour at a lounge, poolside at a hotel. I also have no problem taking my iPod and practicing oceanside, I don’t care who is walking by. But once I left Ashland I had a little trouble finding enough aloha to dance. Maybe it was the anonymous and uninspiring motel rooms in Utah, Nebraska or wherever we were. I gathered enough aloha together for a farewell sailing away dance for family in Michigan but then it seemed to go away again. Being surrounded by water on the Queen Mary was inspiring, even if we did have lots of wind and grey skies. We also had some upright British passengers who didn’t respond to my deckside practice the same way the Hawaiian tourists do. But I was dancing for myself (and whoever wants to enjoy) and by the time of the surprise talent show I was ready to share aloha halfway around the world. Once landing in Europe, I started to look for interesting places to practice and dance. Stonehenge? No, didn’t feel right. Beach in Normandy? Yes, but a resort town, not the D-Day landing sites. Paris? Of course! Local park (I was allowed on the lawn) and Seine-side (Rick gave the nearby police the stink eye when they started to approach as if I was a nut. They backed off.) But the real test would come once I settled in my new town of Fréjus. Students? Language? Had the French even heard of hula?

We were not here long before we found our way to Fréjus Vous Accueil. This organization is made up of volunteers who offer classes and workshops. Fréjus has a number of retirees (like Ashland) and this organization seems geared to that. A very nominal membership fee allows you to take whatever class is offered, most of them are free. I was lucky enough to show up on the day that Nathalie was staffing the desk. I don’t know what she spotted but she offered her own phone number and invited me to call if I needed any help settling into town. I called and what began as an arrangement to be speaking partners has turned into a friendship. When I mentioned teaching hula for Fréjus Vous Accueil she was all over it. She began telling some of the other women about it and here I am with 3 students my first day. I now have 4 (3 French, 1 American who previously lived in Hawai‘i) and they are motivated and dedicated. They even suggested performing the dance they are learning at an upcoming anniversary event for the organization. They’re also discussing making special pareos for the event.

To keep my link to my hula group I brought along a few of my dance skirts and accessories. I usually wear my pa’u to class and the women are amazed it is 5 yards of fabric. To show them other styles of skirts I brought my “luau” skirt (fits slim). I hadn’t worn this all summer and to my dismay when I put it on at class time it was tight! I weighed myself when I got home and had gained 3 kilos since living in Fréjus! And who knows where I started after the Queen Mary! I cut back slightly on the bakery treats and my skirt fits fine again.

The dance space is not great. The offices and classrooms are located in a repurposed government building, mid-century ugly. We dance in a classroom and push all the tables and chairs to the side. There is a very thin mirror, wardrobe size, that doesn’t help us much. The floors don’t seem to get mopped and we’ve accustomed ourselves to bringing in baby wipes so we can clean our feet after we finish.

I am teaching them Ke Ao Nani, a lovely slow ‘auana (modern hula) about the beauty of the world around us. Though the dance is simple to me it is not to them, as they’ve not moved like this before. I learned a lot teaching beside my hula sister Andrea--go slow. This dance has only 2 different steps in it. For me, teaching the movements is not hard. What is hard is doing it all in French. Not only do I give them verbal instruction in French (and sprinkle in a bit of Hawaiian) but I also translated the lyrics for them (which were translated from Hawaiian into English by someone else!) and write out the instructions on each verse as we do them. (One of the dancers graciously corrects my French before I send it out to the group). Most humorous of all though, is when I rapidly call out directions while we are dancing. And during these times the English occasionally pops out. I am getting the hang of what French vocabulary I need for the body parts and how they move. But I also want to convey many other things--the sense of aloha, the meaning of ohana, what hula means to me, what an honor to me that they are trying this and will dance in front of me and the others, the beauty I see.

Like most women I have taught before they are self-conscious and self-deprecatory. And like those other women they are lovely to watch. Hula really does bring out the beautiful. In just one short month they have rhythm and are motivated to tell the story of the song. Somehow I have conveyed some of the many layers of hula, they are finding them, and they really want to do it justice. They have respect for the complexity of the dance as they do their best with memorizing the moves, knowing where they want their bodies to be in space, and at the same time conveying aloha.

Now that the days are getting colder (mid November) I spend less time at the beach. Water is still an inspiration however and I practiced during our recent penichette cruise. I recently choreographed a new beginner dance which tells about a fun jeep ride on my favorite isle, Moloka’i. With this dance my group is starting 2 more new steps (no ka’os!) and we will pick up the pace (they like the exercise). I am working out the kinks of it as I dance atop our houseboat, moored up in Mèze. I’m going to prepare a more advanced version using kala’aus to bring back to my group in Ashland.

I feel like I am keeping my hula alive, though it’s certainly not a prominent part of my life right now. Rick continues to be a hula partner in a sense. He has always been my best fan and completely supportive of the crazy hula ride I started more than 5 years ago. Now he is the only audience most of the time, and is always ready with encouragement and a little pushing to keep on dancing. I don’t force myself to dance if I don’t feel like it, might dance one song just to get my blood and spirit moving, or might dance a series of 6 because I feel really motivated and energized. When I hit a memory block I don’t sweat it, I’ll refresh with my girls when I get home. Sometimes I’m tired when I make my way over to class, thinking about the translation work, but I always leave more energetic than when I came, because the women showed up to the room and the dance. Several weeks ago, hanging out at the beach, I was listening to some of my Hawaiian music. Lei hinahina came on and I simply couldn’t stand it, I just had to dance. HAD TO. So I did, right there on the sand, facing the Mediterranean. It felt great. Looked great too, per Rick.

So, that is how France and Hawai’i are becoming acquainted, here in this tiny corner of southern France.
Your ambassador in hula, Lisa


Mom & Dad Browne said...

Hey Lisa:

Great Blog, Keep up the Hula with your new friends.

Mom & Dad Browne

Michelle et Abigail said...

Lisa your writing is as lovely as your hula is and more importantly as lovely as you are as a person. It is truly an honor for me to know you and I am so grateful we have met and can share a bit of Aloha together. Thank you for all your hard work in teaching and your graciousness in seeing in us beauty that we can not see. Your friend, Michelle

Bren said...

Lisa, I feel you within me as I read your words and am oh so proud to be your mom. I really look forward to meeting and watching a performance by you and your students (and friends). Love you, Moo

Nathalie said...

J'ai découvert le Hula avec toi Lisa et dès que tu as commencé à en parler, j'ai senti à quel point tu aimais cette danse et tout ce que cela pouvait représenter pour toi. J'ai été touchée par ta sensibilité et ta grâce, la première danse que tu as faite pour nous m'a immédiatement plu et c'est pourquoi j'ai été de tes premières elèves à ton cours! Merci de nous transmettre ton art avec tant de passion, dommage que ce ne soit que pour une année!:-(