Last September, Oak Parker Susan Stall noticed an ad in the newspaper for a hula dancing class in her village, and she couldn’t help but feel captivated.
Many years ago Stall lived in Hawaii, and she missed the peaceful island and its beaches.
“The music and the dance of the Hawaiian culture bring me almost towards the smell of the ocean,” Stall said.
June Kaililani Tanoue was born on the Big Island of Hawaii and has taught hula dancing classes out of her home at 163 N. Humphrey Ave. for two years. She studied hula in Hawaii for 14 years, learning to become an expert chanter, dancer and master teacher of the hula, which gives her the title of Kuma hula, a distinction she earned in 2000.
hula is a sacred dance form of the Hawaiian people, which is also accompanied by chant or song. There are two types of hula: the ancient form, called “kahiko,” which is accompanied by traditional dance instruments like a hollowed-out gourd used for rhythmic tapping, thumping and chanting. The other version of hula is called “auana” and features more westernized instruments and style, like the guitar and ukulele.
According to Tanoue, hula was originated to tell stories at a time when Hawaiians didn’t have written language. The dance carries down traditions and embodies the culture. Alan Hester, an accountant from Oak Park who just took his third class, enjoys experiencing Hawaiian life in his spare time.
“It’s very expressive,” Hester said. “I feel the culture by just dancing. That’s why I like it.”
Tanoue teaches three classes during the week at her Oak Park home: a beginner class on Mondays at 6 p.m. which meets four times total, a beginning hula I class on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m that teaches basic footwork and hand motions, and a more advanced footwork and hand class at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesdays.
The beginner classes teach the four basic foot and hand movements. Tanoue said you can dance any dance after you learn those.
She also teaches classes once a month at a studio she rents in New York City. The classes are small. Tanoue has about 14 students total in Oak Park, which leads to a more direct, hands-on experience, so to speak.
“June is a great teacher,” Stall said. “We almost always get individualized instruction because we work very developmentally.”
Judy Healy, a retired kindergarten teacher from Westmont, just attended her first class. She got married and lived in Honolulu for over 34 years. Like Stall, Healy felt a yearning to return to Hawaiian culture.
“I miss the dance and the music,” Healy said. “I just felt drawn back.”
Tanoue also likes to incorporate some Hawaiian values into her class, such as “ha’a ha’a,” or humbleness, and “aloha,” which means love.
“It’s not just dancing, it’s really a lifestyle,” Tanoue said. “hula is life-what we can taste, touch, feel, see and hear.”
To infuse as much Hawaiian culture into her class as possible, Tanoue likes to serve malasadas after her Wednesday classes, a deep fried Portuguese doughnut that’s dipped in confectioner’s sugar. Traditionally, Hawaiians like to eat after they dance, according to Tanoue, who is also a Zen Buddhist studying to be a Zen priest, with her husband, Robert Joshin Althouse, acting as her teacher. The couple runs the Zen Community of Oak Park through their home, where they practice sitting meditation with other Buddhists a few days a week.
Tanoue’s day job is at America’s Second Harvest (“The Nation’s Food Bank Network”) office in Chicago where she works on child hunger programs and is team leader of the Kids Café.
She obtained her bachelor’s in biology and master’s in public health nutrition, but at 38, Tanoue decided she wanted to go back to school to learn everything about hula, especially the chanting, though she first began hula dancing when she was six years old on the Big Island of Hawaii.
“I wanted to learn to chant because it’s so powerful to me; it comes from the heart,” Tanoue said. “I’d find myself walking through the pastures in Hawaii, chanting.”
She traveled and lived in places all over the United States-Oregon, Massachusetts, California. Tanoue performed and entered chanting competitions. She moved to the Chicago area four years ago and felt the urge to teach the dance she knows so much about.
Tanoue wants to share the knowledge of hula with others so the culture and the tradition can continue on through time.
“We say in hula that this talent is really just loaned to you, so I want to pass it on while I can,” Tanoue said. “You don’t have it forever; there’s only so much you can do as you get older, and I don’t want the culture to die with me. I want to share what I’ve learned because it’s such a beautiful culture.”