Prospective students weren’t the only visitors on campus last week. A free hula workshop was held in Beckham Hall at the University on Wednesday. The event was hosted by Momi Afelin ’19 and funded by the Green Fund.
“In this dance workshop, students [learned] how the foundation of hula is deeply intertwined with the environment; as it is steeped in historic traditions and protocols that instill respect and responsibility for all of our natural surroundings,” the Facebook event page stated. “In addition, students will learn many aspects of Hawaiian culture, music, language, geography, history and genealogy.”
Kawika Alfiche, a hula teacher, or Kumu Hula, instructor at Hālau Hula—a hula school—and the Director of the Kaululehua Hawaiian Cultural Center in South San Francisco, Calif. taught the workshop. Alfiche has often made yearly trips to the East Coast to teach, usually traveling to New York City or Boston.
“Since 1994, it has been our goal to educate the general public about the Hawaiian people, the traditional customs, values and protocols,” reads the Hālau o Keikiali’i mission statement on its webpage. “Besides having regularly scheduled classes, we strive to help perpetuate the rich culture of the Hawaiian people through stage productions held for the general public throughout the year, including educational workshops, performances and other cultural events.”
This year, Alfiche knew he was planning on hosting a workshop in New York City, but was looking to host another workshop in a different location on the East Coast. A local hula teacher, Teri Bourget, reached out to Afelin to find a space for Alfiche’s workshop.
Afelin’s passion to host this workshop stems from her long-term immersion in hula dance.
“I was born and raised in Hawai’i on the island of Moloka’i and have been dancing hula for the past 15 years, so hula has always been an integral part of my life,” Afelin wrote in an email to The Argus. “Coming to the mainland, I’ve really missed dancing and have also come to realize how little people understand about Hawai’i. When I was informed that [Alfiche] would be coming to the East Coast and was considering a workshop in Connecticut, I was ecstatic and wanted to do all that I could to make the workshop available to the Middletown and Wesleyan community. For this reason, I applied for funding through the Green Fund so that the workshop was free for all Wesleyan students.”
With numerous attendees ranging from very young to very old in age, the workshop was a success.
“I loved that we had a range of participants,” Afelin wrote. “We had around 50 people in attendance ranging from 10-60 years old, first timers and experienced kumu, and Connecticut residents and Wesleyan students.”
In particular, Alfiche was pleased that there were so many men who came to participate and dance at the event.
“Especially as a male, I really loved that so many men came out to dance,” Alfiche said. “Often, hula is seen as being more of an activity for women. The stereotype that is common is one of female hula dancers. Because of that I was so happy that many of the people at the workshop were male.”
Other than dance, another important aspect of the workshop was promoting a more accurate understanding of the culture that surrounds hula.
“I hope that students who came to the workshop had fun,” Afelin wrote. “But also I hope they left with an understanding that hula is more than it is portrayed to be by the media, that it has deep religious and cultural roots that furthers the people’s interactions with our natural environment.”
Alfiche enjoyed that there was such diversity at the workshop and the University.
“Wesleyan seemed like it is already a very diverse school,” Alfiche said. “I still really appreciated that I could bring aspects of the culture of some small Pacific islands to Connecticut—basically almost halfway across the world.”
According to Afelin, the hula workshop was an important event for the community at the University.
“This event addressed three topics of significance to the Wesleyan community,” Afelin wrote. “First, it introduced a glimpse of a culture that is foreign to many students here. Second, it created an interaction between the Wesleyan community and the Connecticut community in an informal way where people had to get comfortable with one another to learn and led to dialogue. Last but not least, this workshop worked to elucidate the relationship between Hawaiian culture and the natural environment.”