Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dancing to the Rhythm of Home

Caitlin Valhuerdi '13

For many students, the coming of April means spring is here, finals will soon be upon us, and the bright light that is summer can be seen at the end of the academic tunnel.  However, for me, and many students at Pacific, April means one thing: lū’au season is upon us.

For 52 years, Pacific’s Hawai’i club, Na Haumana O Hawaiʻi (NHOH), has put on its annual lū’au.  Held on the second Saturday of April, this event pulls together months and months of preparation starting with planning done by the lū’au board early in the year and ending with late nights in the gym during the week preceding the much anticipated event, reorganizing dancers and folding programs for the guests.  While it gives the students participating in lū’au to share the Hawaiian culture (as well as other Polynesian and Asian cultures) with those on the “mainland,” for me, it has become a way to feel like home isn’t so far away.

I moved to Kaua’i with my family when I was four years old.  It’s the only home I’ve ever really known and the differences between Oregon and the Garden Isle become more and more pronounced the more homesick I get.  I won’t claim that hula has been integral to my upbringing— I took a few hula classes when I was a kid and was a May Day princess in the eighth grade, but beyond that… not so much. 

When I came up to Pacific, I didn’t anticipate making lū’au a part of my spring semester.  My first year, I was (wrongfully) informed that all freshman had to participate in the Freshman dance, so I signed up.  It was almost unnerving, how quickly dancing brought a smile to my face.  The instruments playing through the music, the language I can’t even begin to understand but still find so familiar─ feelings of home came rushing back in.  By the second week of practice, I found myself slipping into pidgin, laughing, and being genuinely happy despite the gray skies and cold puddles that would have otherwise made me day dream of the Kauaian sun.  It was a highlight of my freshman year and the memories I made up on stage, dancing in front of the audience, are ones that I won’t soon let go of.

Valhuerdi (far right) backstage at her freshman dance
Since that first freshman dance, I have participated in at least two numbers (poi balls (both traditional and modern styles) and ‘auana) every year.  Regardless of how tired it makes me or how packed my schedule becomes, Lū’au season is one that simultaneously drives me insane and brings me immense joy.  While I’m glad it offers up a cultural experience for those mainlanders that may never have the chance to be submerged in the melting pot of cultures found in Hawai’i, I am genuinely thankful that lū’au has given me the chance to connect with the life I’ve left back in the islands.

Valhuerdi  '13 grew up on Kaua'i and entered Pacific University in the fall of 2009. She is majoring in Psychology and has worked in the Office of Alumni Relations since the spring semester of her freshman year. She enjoys photography, starting (and completing) DIY projects, going on surf safaris and mastering new nail art designs. Caitlin is third from the right in the photo above and is pictured after her freshman dance on the left.  

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