Practice Makes Perfect

The Sheraton hosts hula to promote tradition

By: Marty Wentzel

It’s Saturday morning at the Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Spa. Kenneth “Aloha” Victor sits on a woven mat on the Bayside Lawn, beating the ipu heke (gourd drum) and uttering Hawaiian words with a lyrical rise and fall of phrasing.

“O ka pa mai ka makani Eka halihali mai ana I ke kai opua,” he said (“Let the Eka wind of Kona blow, it brings the clouds that are famous to Kona”).

Surrounding palm fronds rustle in sea breezes as a group of women from Victor’s halau (hula school) dance to the mele (chant). Time seems to stand still as participants practice ancient steps and sounds in the here and now.

Clients can experience the magic of such moments thanks to a new Sheraton Keauhou initiative. The hotel, located in one of Hawaii’s most historic districts, has adopted Victor’s ensemble, Halau Kalaakeakauikawekiu, which allows the troupe to hold its practices on resort grounds.

Guests can stop by the free rehearsals to watch, learn, enjoy and take photographs as keiki (children) and adults work diligently with Victor, perfecting intricate hand and foot movements, while expressing the emotion of hula.

“By providing the halau our facility for their practices, we are enhancing the guest experience while giving back to our community,” said Revell Newton, Sheraton Keauhou’s sales and marketing director. “It’s a win-win situation. We see ourselves as setting an example and establishing a precedent at Keauhou. As a member of the community, we take our position here seriously.”

Newton said he wants travel agents to know that Sheraton is a leader in preserving Hawaiian traditions.

“By watching keiki and adults at the rehearsal level, guests’ perspectives broaden, and they get a better understanding of the hula they see on stage at a luau, for example,” he said. “Clients gain so much more appreciation for the art form.”

Victor founded his halau in 2004 with four male high school seniors. As time, experience and opportunities progressed, so did the number of his students and their ages. He now teaches dancers as young as age 3, including his son Shayne who helps keep the pace of the dance with a drum.

“It’s kind of amazing to see my son beat rhythms that some adults can’t master,” Victor said.

His daughter Shyla, who also dances in the troupe, won her first solo keiki hula competition last November at age 8, after rehearsing for just two weeks.

Hula may look easy but watching a rehearsal helps clients realize just how hard it can be. Dancers must move hands, feet, hips and heads at the same time to precise motions that replicate nature like wind, water, sky and birds while smiling and displaying emotion. Victor encourages self-sufficiency, teaching his students how to make their own leis, hula implements and costumes.

“I don’t know everything or have the ability to do everything, so I don’t hesitate to ask our kupuna [elders] and friends for assistance,” he said. “Our community is great and there are many knowledgeable people here. I am humbled and grateful for the help, including the hospitality of Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort and Spa.”

Sheraton Keauhou is working on other ways to weave cultural traditions into the guest experience, said Newton.

“We are creating a walking tour that will explain many of the legends and history of this area,” he said. “We’ll combine this with information about the flora and fauna. It’s a very involved project, and we know the resulting tour and brochure will enhance the client’s visit with us.”

The tour will be launched sometime within the next year. Meanwhile, clients who have watched a rehearsal with Victor and his troupe can take their newfound knowledge of hula to the next level by booking tickets to Sheraton Keauhou’s twice-weekly luau.


Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Spa
78-128 Ehukai St.
Kona, HI 96740

Each Saturday, the women of Halau Kalaakeakauikawekiu practice from 8-10 a.m. Keiki (children) ages 4-12 rehearse from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

On Wednesdays, keiki practice from 2:30-5 p.m., and the women from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Rehearsals take place on the resort’s Hawaii or Bayside lawns.

The hotel’s Origins Luau takes place Mondays and Thursdays ($65 per adult; $32.50 per child ages 5-12).