Na Kamalei: The Men of Hula

About This Episode

From tourist kitsch to old Hollywood movies, many people are familiar with romanticized images of women dancing the hula in Hawaii. While few are aware of the sacred traditions of the dance, the role of male hula dancers has long been overshadowed by Western concepts of gender and sexuality. From ancient times, when men learned the dance along with the martial arts of battle, to the suppression of the dance under missionary ban, the hula survived underground for many years until the cultural renaissance of the 1970s.

In 1975, at the height this revival, master hula teacher Maiki Aiu Lake asked her student, legendary entertainer Robert Cazimero, to open a school for only male dancers. With six young high school students, Robert Cazimero founded Halau Na Kamalei, and it suddenly became ”hot” for men to dance hula again. Celebrating the halau’s (school's) 30th anniversary, Men of Hula tells a story of Hawaiian pride and examines male roles in Hawaiian culture, both past and present.

Blending dance and culture with the personal stories of the men, the film follows the dancers—who range in age from 18 to 55 years old—as they return to the largest hula competition in the world. Often called the “Superbowl of Hula,” the stakes are high at the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival. Though the school won over 30 years ago in 1975, the competition today typically favors women or the younger, more physically chiseled men’s groups. These men, many of whom are the oldest in competition, instead seek not to win, but to dance with pride and masculine grace.

From the grueling rehearsals and nervous last minutes backstage to the preparations of their leis and offerings to the goddess of the volcano, Na Kamalei’s exciting return to the stage thrusts male hula dancers into the spotlight once again. In a ”rare victory” for a men’s group, Robert and his men sweep the awards with their warrior-like dancing. NA KAMALEI: The Men of Hula highlights the men’s ageless joy of dancing to reveal a renaissance that is not fading, but continuing the proud legacy of men performing the art of hula.