Mae Ulalia Loebenstein

Noted kumu hula
danced for 60 years

Her group was the overall winner
at the Merrie Monarch in April

By Mary Adamski

"The Bible tells us to share our talents. We shouldn't forget where it comes from," said Mae Ulalia Loebenstein after she was crowned Lei Day Queen in 1990.

It was a sentiment the kumu hula repeated in April when her halau, Ka Pa Hula O Kauanoe O Wa'ahila, triumphed at the Merrie Monarch Festival as overall winner, top women's winner and first place winner in kahiko (traditional) hula.

Loebenstein died yesterday in Queen's Hospital at the age of 86.

She was hospitalized Saturday after conducting her regular Saturday hula classes.

She was widely known and respected over more than 60 years of entertaining as a musician and dancer. One of seven daughters of Henry and Ida Long of Maui, she learned to dance from her mother and was self-taught on the ukulele and the bass.

She performed with numerous groups in World War II and on USO tours, on P&O cruise ships, and in Waikiki hotels and taught in other hula schools.

"One of my youngest memories is of going to entertain the troops, following her up the Jacob's ladder of a Navy ship with her bass on her back," recalled her daughter, Albermae Stewart.

In 1992 at the age of 80, she started her halau with Stewart as business manager and granddaughter Maelia Loebenstein as her assistant instructor.

She helped her students focus their energy through breathing exercises at the beginning of each class, telling them it was a way to "cleanse out all the opala (garbage). She'd tell them, 'you are strong, powerful, gifted. You are young, beautiful, happy, thankful,'" said her granddaughter. "That's what I told her today.

"She said 'when you dance there are two of you, your spiritual self and your physical self. The spirit has to dance.'"

Her spiritual focus was reflected in two traditions she observed at each year's Merrie Monarch competition in Hilo. First, she led her dancers to chant and leave a gift at Kilauea crater for Laka, the Hawaiian goddess revered by hula dancers. "She would say it is not that she's going to worship, she is going to pay respect as you would to family on another island, to say 'thank you for letting us visit, I brought you a little something.'"

The other tradition was to bring the troupe with her to Mass at Malia Puka O Kalani Catholic Church in Hilo.

Maelia Loebenstein said her grandmother didn't have a conflict between her Christian faith and acknowledging traditional Hawaiian beliefs.

"She said we all believe in a higher being. This is God's creation and we thank him for it."

Loebenstein was an active lay leader at St. Patrick's Church in Kaimuki for 60 years. The day after winning the hula honors, she filled her regular Monday role as lector at the daily Mass there.

"She was a woman that touched my heart," said Aloha Dalire, kumu hula of Keolalaulani Halau 'Olapa O Laka.

"Even though halau are competitors, I didn't feel that way.

"She was my best friend. I felt she was somebody who would live forever."

Funeral services are pending.

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