Hips don’t lie: Happy Hula brings ‘aloha spirit’
Mar 30, 2017 11:45AM
By Travis Barton
Dancers from Happy Hula perform at the Tyler Library. (Travis Barton/City Journals)
By Travis Barton | [email protected]
It wasn’t your average silent night at Midvale’s Tyler Library on Feb. 27. The usual hush-hush environment was broken up by rhythms of island music and stories told through swaying hips and hands.
That night, the library played host to Happy Hula, a Polynesian entertainment group from Provo that performs dances from various Polynesian islands. Dancer Tauhere Alvarez said she hoped people felt the aloha spirit.
“We just want people to have a good time, ‘cause we have a good time,” Alvarez said.
Group director Noa Wetzel said she hoped people experienced “just a love for Polynesian culture through dance and song and just be interested in learning about it.”
The Provo-based group was started four years ago by Wetzel, a Samoan who grew up in New Zealand before moving to America as a teenager.
“I was trying to teach it first as classes, one day someone called for a show. Then when I did that show I realized, ‘oh that’s what I like,’” she said. Wetzel learned the dancing and music in New Zealand where they teach it in schools.
Currently, the group—where people join for free—is made up of about 35 people ranging from pre-teens to senior citizens. Wetzel said many of the islanders in the group were born here so the group is a chance to learn more about different Polynesian cultures. They also are taking a trip next year to New Zealand.
“We just try to connect them back to the cultures and take them back to the islands,” she said.
Many members of the group come from different island cultures and those who aren’t, as Wetzel put it, are “Polynesian at heart.” Alvarez is part Tahitian, part Romanian. She said she loves that she can learn about different cultures.
“Coming together [the other dancers] learn about my culture and I learn about theirs and we all come to be friends and then we get to share it through entertainment. It’s so cool,” Alvarez said having been part of the group since its inception.
It is appropriate then that group does dances from multiple locations such as the Cook Islands, Fiji and Tonga.
“All of them have slightly different styles even though they look generally the same, there’s different ways to move your hands in different cultures,” Alvarez said. Her favorite dance is a solo Tahitian dance she’s recently started which is of a slower pace than the quick hip shaking done with Tahitian dances.
“They tell a story with their hands and their hips.”
The night’s entertainment included a famous dance and song from the recent Pixar film, “Moana,” along with some audience participation where they learned some dancing styles.
Wetzel said the Polynesian culture is very open.
“It’s just a positive thing in general. People who love music, people who love dance, it’s beautiful like that,” she said.
Alvarez added that the dancing is a way for the culture to preserve its heritage.
“Sometimes (things) can get lost through the generations, but they’re preserving it and that’s really special,” Alvarez said.
Happy Hula will be holding a fundraiser on June 10 at the Utah Valley University Ballroom where they’ll raise money for both their trip to New Zealand and for a local hospital to serve women who have lost a child.