Friday, April 20, 2001


The Merrie Monarch Festival draws dancers from around the nation

Natasha K. Oda from Halau Ka Ua Kani Lehua in Hilo charmed
the crowd at the Miss Aloha Hula contest last night.

Merrie Monarch
crowd of 4,000
rejoices in hula

Natasha K. Oda wins the
Miss Aloha Hula competition as
Hilo's Johnny Lum Ho returns

By Tim Ryan

Hilo >> Merrie Monarch's prodigal son, Johnny Lum Ho, received a legend's welcome at the world's greatest hula festival last night.

He evoked deafening cheers from the near-capacity crowd of 4,000 at Edith Kanakaole Tennis Stadium even before his dancer, Natasha K. Oda, took the stage and then won the Miss Aloha Hula competition.

Lum Ho of Hilo has been on a five-year self-imposed absence from the Merrie Monarch Festival, largely due to his disagreement with its judging. His stature last night was more defiant than diplomatic as he and his chanting partners marched to the stage, heads held high to thunderous applause.

"There he is, there's Johnny," a woman near the stage entrance told a friend.

"So glad it's ovah.
I didn't notice nothing ... so focused to do
what Johnny (Ho) had taught me and
told me. I am so happy for him
and to be a part of him."

Natasha K. Oda,
Miss Hula Aloha

It was Lum Ho, all 5-feet-something, brown eyes cast down, shoulders rigidly up, jaw set.

Just the announcement of his halau, Ka Ua Kani Lehua, in the kahiko competition was louder than all the other 12 entries in the Miss Aloha Hula competition. And dancer Natasha Kamalamaalamaokalailokokapu'uwaimehanaokekeipunahele Oda's entrance was no less well received.

Natasha K. Oda, above, of Hilo's Halau Ka Ua Kani Lehua,
won the title of Miss Aloha Hula at the 38th Merrie
Monarch Festival in Hilo last night.

Lana Naihe gives Oda, her halau sister, a congratulatory hug.

With two minutes of a haunting, desperately pleading chant by Oda -- "Mele Aloha No Kaulana-i-ka-poki'i E Keaomelemele" -- the crowd turned silent. Then the former Tokyo Disney dancer erupted into a pounding, pulsating dance in meticulous timing with Lum Ho's vocal and the drumming of three ipus.

Throughout the six-minute, 27-second dance, Lum Ho played several different characters in the story.

The audience was unable to contain itself, bursting into applause and yells for kumu and student.

Oda finished her dance teary-eyed, with the entire stadium standing, screaming, some crying that indeed Lum Ho has brought back style, innovation and excitement to the 38-year-old event.

"So glad it's ovah," the exuberant Oda said, walking off the stage. "I didn't notice nothing ... so focused to do what Johnny had taught me and told me. I am so happy for him and to be a part of him."

Kaylee Kapuananiikekahihawanawana Weyker of Halau
Ho'ola Ka Mana O Hawai'i from Dallas dances in the
kahiko segment of the Miss Aloha Hula competition.

Cyd La'ie Gasper from Halau Ka Ua Kilihune, Kaneohe.

Lum Ho was trembling by the time he reached the halau's dressing room, a converted meeting room. "Yes, it feels good to be back, I have to say," he said. "It feels fresh, but still stress."

Lum Ho, as he has done in years past, did not supply the words to his chants to the seven judges as the other kumu hula did.

"They're supposed to know," he said. "All you're really supposed to do is give them the story, then they watch what the story is about, and the crowd liked it, so they know what it is about."

One reason Lum Ho refuses to give judges the translation is to protect his music.

Snowbird Bento of Ka Pa Hula O Kamehameha placed second in the competition, followed by Kahikina de Silva of Halau Mohala 'Ilima, Noelle Shiroma of Halau Hula Olana and Kamealoha Elaban-Hall of Puka'ikapuaokalani Hula Halau.

KITV-4 has streaming video of
Merrie Monarch competition

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