On Center Stage

World hula conference comes to Maui

By: Marty Wentzel

KAHULUI, Maui At the first World Conference on Hula in 2001, Hokulani Holt-Padilla sat among the elders of hula, awestruck.

“To hear what they had to say, to see them in person, to enjoy their stories and experiences, gave me a greater appreciation of hula discipline as well as creativity,” said Holt-Padilla, a kumu hula (hula master) in her own right. “It taught me more about how time and place affect the evolution of hula. I came away believing more than ever that there must always be a place where traditional hula is maintained, no matter how it eventually evolves as an art form.”

The inaugural conference convened in Hilo, on the Big Island. This year, from July 24 to 30, it’s Maui’s turn to host the prestigious event, which takes place only once every four years. During the week, clients can learn about Hawaii’s hallowed dance through workshops, presentations, excursions, performances and hands-on experiences.

“The Maui community sees this as a wonderful opportunity to welcome people interested in hula and Hawaiian culture, to open our doors, and to practice hookipa (hospitality),” said Holt-Padilla, one of the conference coordinators.

This isn’t your cellophane-skirt Hollywood-style hula we’re talking about. Instead, the conference addresses the dance as a truly cultural and historical experience. However, that doesn’t mean clients need to know how to dance hula or speak Hawaiian in order to benefit from the conference, stressed Holt-Padilla.

“The conference offers learning opportunities for people who have had no exposure to hula,” she said. “A participant can take trips to outlying areas, hear lectures on Hawaiian history and literature, view and participate in demonstrations of cultural practices and learn how to sing Hawaiian songs and dance hula.”

At the same time, the conference provides new insights for clients who may already be well versed in things Hawaiian, even someone as tuned into the culture as the highly esteemed Holt-Padilla. Recalling her experience at the 2001 conference, she said, “It was stimulating for me to see such excitement and hear the discussions of the participants. The thoughts and ideas, the realizations, the many new pieces of information that were being discussed all of it was very moving.”

A prolific composer of mele (songs) and oli (chants), and the cultural programs director at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center, the Maui-raised Holt-Padilla mounts major dramatic hula productions like “Tales of Maui the Demigod” and “Maui Moonlight Serenade.” But she also channels her energies toward keeping the culture alive for the next generation. She co-founded Maui’s Hawaiian language immersion preschool, for instance, and she served as a program coordinator for Maui’s center for gifted and talented native Hawaiian children.

In the midst of her many projects, Holt-Padilla is making sure Maui gets its moment in the sun as host of the World Conference on Hula.

“This time around, we plan to focus on information that stems from Maui,” said Holt-Padilla. “In Hawaii and the rest of the world, Maui does not readily come to mind when people think of hula traditions. Bringing Maui’s information and experience to conference participants is an important goal. Perhaps then, more Maui songs and dances will be done throughout the world, because people will have a personal experience and reference with the places and people of our island.” Presenters during the conference include luminaries from Hawaii’s cultural, intellectual and artistic fields. Besides Holt-Padilla, clients can mingle with and learn from Cliff Pali Ahue, Manu Boyd, Hailama Farden, Kaipo Frias, Leinaala Kalama Heine, Pualani Kanahele, Kekuhi Kanahele, Robert Kaupu, Manu Meyer, Kathy Holoau Ralar, Lisa Raymond, Alicia Smith, Piilani Smith and Vicky Holt Takamine.

“It’s a very rare occasion when all of these people come together in one place,” Holt-Padilla said. Members of Maui’s tourism industry are looking forward to the conference, expected to draw 2,500 people to the island for one to two weeks.

“Like all other conferences, the World Conference on Hula will bring more visitors to our hotels, restaurants, shopping centers and other businesses,” said Holt-Padilla. “We anticipate that revenues during this time will be upward of several million dollars.”

The conference registration fee itself isn’t commissionable to travel agents, but travel agents can benefit from the commissions paid on related expenses such as hotel accommodations and rental cars.


The 2005 World Conference on Hula takes place at various Maui locations July 24-30.

The weeklong celebration of hula and Hawaiian culture features workshops conducted by 100 hula teachers, cultural practitioners and artisans, and evening hula performances. Some 2,000 hula teachers, students and enthusiasts are expected to participate.

While it’s open to all ages and abilities, most of the conference’s activities are geared toward adults, with specific programs designed for children.

Registration includes conference materials, lunches for five days, evening performances, one evening meal, excursions and shuttle service to conference venues.

Several Maui hotels are setting aside room blocks for conference participants. The conference Web site provides a link to accommodations that are available during the week.

Rates for early registration by March 1 are $325 per adult, $225 per senior (60 years and older) and $150 per child (ages 5-12).

Registration after March 1 costs $375 per adult, $275 per senior and $200 per child. Evening performances (open to the public): $10 per person.