Angela Gomes, Kalsey Navor and Brendie Acerete are hula veterans.
Photo by Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin

Young dancers take their first steps

By Nadine Kam

AN audience 1,000-strong roared its approval when Jolene Gomes, Shyla Mattos and the rest of their 24-member dance troupe took the stage during the Ho'olaule'a that kicked off the Big Island's Merrie Monarch festivities.

Gomes and Mattos performed Sunday at Coconut Island near Queen Lili'uokalani Gardens, oblivious to the eyes riveted to their movements, for their focus was on their muse. The girls are only 3 years old and part of Kumu Hula Ray Fonseca's Keiki I hula class for girls up to age 10.

It takes a lot of years of dedication to the dance to become a Miss Aloha Hula, and this fact is not lost on the parents who for years had asked Fonseca, of Halau Hula 'O Kahikilaulani if he would teach children as young as three.

"I always said 'no,' " he said. "When I was younger I had no patience. As I got older I mellowed out and began to see the importance of teaching at a young age."

Even now, potential students are only allowed to watch his classes at first. "They want to do everything," Fonseca said. "But when they see it's not play, that it involves work and study, sometimes ... they lose interest. They go join baseball or something."

The teaching goes beyond dance. "It takes three years before I can put a dancer into a particular class. Before that, they're learning focus, steps, terminologies - just learning how to be a student," he said.

"When they start at this age, if it's in them, they can focus on what they want to happen, not just in hula, but in their lives."

At the ho'olaule'a, the girls - some of them climbing the coconut palms that give the island Moku Ola its name, some jumping on the stone barrier at the edge of the sea, some swaying to the music of other performers - didn't seem to be thinking about tomorrow or titles. Having been handed packages of Easter candies, a gift from Fonseca, their focus turned to ripping into the cellophane bags. Now they could taste the fruit of their labor, in the form of lavender lollipops and pink marshmallow bunnies.

Will there be a future Miss Aloha Hula in this gap-toothed bunch? Fonseca said he can see in the children's eyes when his teaching is sinking in.

"They start focusing, wanting to be there and getting into the language - they must have three years of Hawaiian language. And (in the Keiki I group) there are quite a few that sparkle just standing there."

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