Aired Tuesday May 6th, 2008 at 11:01 pm
The Men of Hula: Na Kamalei on Stage
PBS broadcasts programming created by and about Asian Pacific Americans year-round, but in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, celebrated each May, PBS and KUED will present a special line-up of new and encore presentations that focus on Asians and Pacific Islanders. Reflecting the diversity of ethnicities, experiences and regions with a breadth unlikely to be found anywhere else, these compelling programs examine the rich history, cultural contributions and absorbing heritage of Asian Pacific Americans.
On Tuesay, May 6, at 11 p.m. on KUED-Channel 7, Independent Lens presents "Na Kamalei: The Men of Hula," a program that goes beyond deep-rooted stereotypes of "grass skirt girls" and reveals a story of Hawaiian pride through the exploration of male roles in the hula tradition, past and present.
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 until the cultural renaissance of the 1970s.
In 1975, at the height of 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, NA KAMALEI: The Men of Hula tells a story of Hawaiian pride and examines male roles in Hawaiian culture, both past and present.
"Hula is the art of Hawaiian dance, expressing everything we hear, see,
smell, taste, touch and feel. That's what hula is to me, and to anybody
I've trained," says Robert Cazimero, master teacher of Halau Na Kamalei.
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 more than 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.
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