INDIANAPOLIS — If you’re lucky, you’ve seen the pristine beaches and relaxing tropical vibes of Hawaii firsthand!
Hawaii is oozing with culture and traditions that have been kept alive for centuries. And how sweet it is that some of the magic of Polynesia is right here in central Indiana.
Hawaii’s cultural richness stands alone with unique beauty and flair.
Dr. Lisa Smith is a medical doctor during the week and a hula dance teacher at Indy Hula on the weekends. She’s made it her mission to share her culture with all of central Indiana.
“The hula is a physical expression of a song or of a composition. People don’t realize that you cannot dance hula to something that doesn’t have words. It doesn’t make sense to do that. So, what we’re doing is we’re taking what the composer wanted to say and we’re putting it in to motion,” Smith said.
And it’s that motion that has captivated audiences around the world. Smith said many songs are inspired by the land and waters of that region.
“Usually, it’s elements of what Hawaiians saw around them. So, we’re imitating the trees, the way the wind is, the way the rain is. So, we want to paint that picture of what the composer is talking about. So, we want to take you to that place, by watching us dance,” Smith said.
A teacher in Hawaii would normally take their students outside in nature to learn about the songs they dance to. Since that would be difficult to do from Indianapolis, Smith does her best to bring Hawaii to her students.
“This headpiece is a Tahitian headpiece. As you can see, they used things in their element. As you can see, we’re ocean people,” Smith said.
Sea shells, feathers, coconut trees — Polynesian culture is inspired by the physical world around them. And within that culture, you’ll find a lot of diversity. Smith’s family is of Samoan ethnicity, but she grew up in Hawaii and has intentionally passed that culture to her family. Her daughter, Victoria, who’s training to be a medical doctor, also spends her weekends teaching hula.
“I think people have this misconception of Pacific Islanders and we kind of downplay the contributions, but our people were expert navigators. They sailed back and forth across the Pacific many times,” Victoria said.
Speaking with a chest full of pride, Victoria shared some of the lessons her mother taught her.
“It’s not just one singular culture — it’s very vast and diverse. Not only did it play a role in my identity development, but it also taught me a lot of lessons I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise about discipline and staying committed to things long-term," Victoria said.
And it’s those same lessons they hope their students gain from Polynesian culture and through learning how to dance the hula.
Indy Hula dance classes meet downtown Saturday mornings. They have a variety of classes for all ages. You can find more info at IndyHula.org.