Off the Beaten Path: Hula Aloha

May 6, 2014 | By Allison Schaefers

The employees of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki share the aloha spirit with visitors through service, and even dance.

The Hawaii State Legislature attempted to define “Aloha Spirit” with the passage of a law acknowledging it as the “working philosophy of native Hawaiians,” which was presented to the people of Hawai‘i as a gift.

The law, HRS 5.7-5, requires that all residents and visitors to Hawai‘i conduct themselves in accordance with the “Aloha Spirit,” which is defined as the “coordination of the mind and heart within each person.”

If you think that description sounds sort of like a dance, you wouldn’t be far from the mark. Locals consider aloha to be both an idea and an experience, since it can only be defined through actions. A group of employees at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa have taken this philosophy to heart by joining an employee hula halau (dance troupe) that regularly performs for hotel guests.

Called Halau Ku Makani ‘Eha, which means the four directional winds, the dance group is the brainchild of the resort’s cultural practitioners Auntie April Chock and Aka Oclinaria and is meant to serve as a natural outgrowth of the resort’s cultural offerings.

Every weekday afternoon from 1 to 3 p.m., the two offer free cultural fun such as Hawaiian crafts, lei making, ‘ukulele, hula lessons, story telling and more. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, complimentary historical tours begin at 1 p.m. On Friday nights from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. near the waterfall in the Great Hall on the first floor, guests can enjoy a mini Polynesian show, hands-on lei making demonstrations, hula dancing, Polynesian art tattooing and a Samoan fire knife dancer.

But perhaps the most intimate of all experiences is when guests get the chance to see the resort’s employees provide them with the gift of hula, which is regarded by many as the language of aloha.

“This is a gift that’s freely given from the employees to our guests,” Oclinaria says. “To be honest, the Hyatt is not a cheap place to stay. This is our way of showing our appreciation for guests continuously coming here.”

The halau also provides a way to keep the Hawaiian culture alive in Waikiki, which over the years has seen authentic Hawaiian experiences dwindle.

“When I was a young dancer, every hotel had music and they never played it at the same time. Guests could go from place to place enjoying the experience,” Chock says. “Now, Hawaiian culture is getting harder to find and lots of hotels use piped-in music.”

The halau has grown popular among Hyatt employees, who find that their participation helps them learn more about Hawaiian culture while building stronger workplace ties.

“It’s a boundary kicker,” Oclinaria says. “All of our departments are blending together to form the roots of one big family.”

Hula also cuts down on workplace stress, says Hyatt cook Misi Toiolo.

“When you get the beat going and start doing the steps and learning the meanings, you become part of that dance,” Toiolo says. “It’s good exercise. It builds core and lower-body strength and hand- eye coordination.”

Aundrea Washington, who has worked Hyatt security since 1988, says he’s already performed in four shows since friends recruited him to join the volunteer halau last August.

“It’s lots of fun and where else can you see an African American guy from Chicago performing hula,” says Washington, who has become so enamored by Hawai‘i’s native dance that it now rivals his interest in martial arts.

Guests, who have worked with Japanese phone operator Tomoko Moore, also may appreciate the chance to experience aloha in action.

“To me, aloha means the feeling and care that you give,” Moore says. “My job is one where you really need to feel aloha and share it. Hula is another gift that I can give.”

Kahealani Dela Cruz, a dinner cook at SHOR who has been dancing for about a year, has taken those ideas a step further by using hula to develop more meaningful relationships with guests.

“By showing our aloha, we give them something important to take back home and share,” Dela Cruz says. “Hawai‘i is not about the words that you learn or the clothes that you buy… it’s our aloha spirit that’s special.”

I agree. Because when I hear stories like these about hotel workers who are going out of their way to put their best foot forward for Hawai‘i’s visitor industry, my heart just dances.

Did you know?

Auntie April Chock once danced on the wing of a Pan American World Airways plane during a celebration at Honolulu International Airport to mark the (now-defunct) carrier’s inaugural pan-Pacific flight.

A three-time national award winning reporter, Allison Schaefers serves as the Waikiki Bureau Chief for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Based in Waikiki, she covers Hawai’i tourism and Waikiki issues. Contact her at

Photos: Nathalie Walker