Hawaiian at Heart

Kaleo Wheeler, center, tells her own life story through dance. Photo by Rimas Zailskas/

Kaleo Wheeler, center, tells her own life story through dance. Photo by Rimas Zailskas.

No coordination is required, because there’s no “hoop” in this hula. Unlike today’s extravagant resurgence of that 1970s fad — with troupes spinning wildly tricked-out hoops at drum circles and festivals — original hula is all about intention, gentle rhythm, and storytelling.

Hula can be a passionate message or a prayerful meditation. Flowing dresses and leis are lovely accompaniments, but not required.

Long-time singer and hula-dance instructor Kaleo Wheeler of Hendersonville says that the Hawaiian dance form increases personal spirituality and wisdom. She notes: “It deepens our understanding of ourselves.”

Rooted in ancient celebrations of passion and victory, hula is easy to learn and requires no significant level of physical fitness, much less great dexterity. The form is timeless, but also accessible. And because Wheeler spent many years in Hawaii learning from hula’s masters and matriarchs, she is uniquely situated to translate the moves to beginners.

“Every woman — every age, every size, every ethnicity — can do hula, and no dance experience is necessary,” she says. “The basic steps are simple, and everyone dances at the level that is comfortable for them and their bodies. With the stories being told with the arms and hands, it can even be done sitting.”

Wheeler teaches various forms of hula, including a popular beginners’ class and a series called “Your Body Tells a Story — Graceful Sensuality,” at Henderson County Parks & Recreation Center and at Bella Dance Studio in Spartanburg, SC. She also offers “Ho’oponopono” classes from her home. That dance form is a seriously expressive type of hula concerned with themes of harmony, justice, and conflict resolution.

For Wheeler, it’s personal. She credits hula for helping her heal from early sexual abuse. As a child, she says, she used to love ballet. But later, after traumatic experiences, she was unable to return to any familiar dance form without feeling nausea and struggling against a severely limiting inflexibility.

She tried bellydance, but found that its isolated movements were confusing and troubling. The easy, connected swaying of hula, however, prompted a loosening of both body and soul.

“I would be out with friends, dancing free form at a club with them,” she remembers. Because of hula, she says, “I began to experience that child in me, dancing freely and joyfully once again. This healing art literally saved my life.”

Kaleo Wheeler’s group “The Heart of Aloha Halau” will hold a Christmas Hawaiian Potluck and Ho’ike Dance December 15, 5:30pm (dance begins at 7pm) at Henderson County Parks and Recreation Center (708 S. Grove St). Bring your favorite Hawaiian dish, wear your favorite Hawaiian outfit, and learn a little Hawaiian Hula. RSVP and more info at 812-929-8898. www.kaleowheeler.com.

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