The members of Hawaiian Ensemble swapped their everyday clothes out for colorful wraps, known as pareos, and exchanged their casual hats for elaborate crowns made of leaves. In just moments, they transformed from typical students into storytellers who use the art of hula and ote’a. This year’s Ho’ike theme was titled “E Lei No Au I Ko Aloha,” or, “I will cherish your love as a beautiful adornment.”
“In Hawaiian language, ‘ho’ike’ is defined as final test or exhibition,” senior and club president Jessica Manalang said. “Ho’ike is Hawaiian Ensemble’s ‘final exhibition’ because this is the event where we showcase our dancers and what they’ve learned throughout the year.”
The Ensemble’s leaders come up with a different theme for Ho’ike every year. This year, Manalang explained there was an emphasis on storytelling with the theme. This was because they felt that the dancers had lost sight of why they dance. “We wanted to remind the community and ourselves who we are, what we are about and why we all come together, which is to not only dance, but tell a story,” Manalang said.
Another aspect of this year’s theme was leis, which represent unity and affection for other people. Though each dance told its own story, they all related back to this theme. “The members of Hawaiian Ensemble are like a lei,” said junior Kayla Gene Esparas-Hope, who is the vice president of operations. “Each item [of a lei] is beautiful on its own as each dancer is, and together bound by a string, the dancers are bound together by this club. Each of them came together on their own and together we became a family.” One song told a story about how a man compared his lover to a beautiful pearl necklace, while another song told the story of Chief Kakuhihewa and how the proper way to honor him was by making and giving him a lei.
Gabriel Fontanilla is from Hawaii and flew to USF to watch and support his girlfriend, Rachel Kim, in her last performance. “As an audience member, I felt engaged with the show. As a person from Hawaii, the club did well in showcasing Hawaii’s culture,” he said.
The members of Hawaiian Ensemble have devoted over 100 hours in practices and fundraisers in preparation for the Ho’ike. Despite the show being two hours long, the audience never died down.
“I’ve always loved dancing and helping and teaching other people what hula is,” club operations assistant and sophomore Shelby Elenente said. “Hula makes people happy – both the dancers and the people watching. Hula always tells a story, and as dancers, we get to tell it to people.”
Photos: Hula dancers bought a taste of Hawaiian traditions to USF students. Brandon Rayes/ Foghorn