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From the hips and hands to the smiles and steps, every move of a hula dancer has meaning. Intrinsically linked to the islands, hula is readily accessible to visitors in hotel lobbies or during sunset cocktails, but Hawaiian hula festivals let clients dig deeper into that time-honored tradition. Better yet, festivals usually feature arts and crafts displays, food vendors and a chance to mingle with locals. The following five great hula festivals offer a chance to savor what Hawaii’s 19th century King Kalakaua — known as the Merrie Monarch — called “the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people."
Hula O Na Keiki, Maui Nov. 8-10, 2013Hula O Na Keiki, a weekend-long children’s solo hula and chant competition, takes place on the grounds of Kaanapali Beach Hotel. Showcasing dances in both the traditional and modern styles, the event aims to keep Hawaiian culture alive for future generations. Along with priceless performances by youngsters ages 5-17, it also features crafts from Maui, Oahu and Molokai, cultural workshops and presentations, outrigger canoe rides and an awards ceremony.www.kbhmaui.com
Ka Hula Piko Festival, MolokaiMay 2-4, 2013According to tradition, the highlands of west Molokai mark the birthplace of the hula. For over 20 years, this festival has presented educational sessions on the island’s legends and events like talk-story sessions with esteemed members of the community. Three days of festivities lead up to a day-long party filled with Hawaiian and local craft booths, island-style food, door prizes, a silent auction and entertainment by Molokai performers and hula halau (troupes). www.molokaievents.com
Merrie Monarch Festival, Hawaii IslandMarch 31-April 6, 2013Considered the granddaddy of Hawaiian hula festivals, the Merrie Monarch is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2013. Drawing halau from across Hawaii and the mainland, the event includes the prestigious Miss Aloha Hula contest and group competitions in ancient and modern styles. It’s tough to get tickets to the actual performances, but visitors can still enjoy the festival’s arts and crafts fairs, free hula shows and grand parade through Hilo town.www.merriemonarch.com
Mokihana Festival, KauaiSept. 22-28, 2013This week-long celebration of Hawaiian culture includes educational lectures, live music and hula competitions at locations around the island of Kauai. The theme for the 2013 festival is Ola Pono Hawaii (Hawaiian health). Throughout the week, visitors can attend a Hawaiian church service; a Kauai composer’s contest and concert; a children’s and youth music contest; an evening concert celebrating Hawaiian culture through dance, music, arts and crafts; and solo and group hula competitions.www.maliefoundation.org
Prince Lot Hula Festival, OahuJuly 20, 2013With its beautiful setting in Moanalua Gardens, the state’s largest non-competitive hula event honors 19th-century Prince Lot Kapuaiwa, who helped to revive Hawaii’s beloved dance by presenting it at his summer home. Enhanced by crafts, lomilomi massage, local food and traditional Hawaiian games, the festival fulfills its goal to preserve and perpetuate the culture, language and hula traditions of Hawaii. Last year’s daylong affair drew 10,000 people, who relaxed beneath the gardens’ huge monkeypod and banyan trees.www.moanaluagardensfoundation.org