Hit and Run Hula: Nä Lei Hulu dancers set to shake up San Francisco

By Jenny Des Jarlais


A family of four strolls along Pier 39 licking ice cream cones and listening to the sea lions bark. Suddenly, a bus pulls up and colorfully dressed men and women pour out and form lines. The group dances in unison, twirling and gesturing to the sounds of toe-tapping music. As spectators quickly gather, the family members turn to their neighbors in the crowd. “What the heck is this?”

“This” is kumu hula Patrick Makuakäne’s Hit & Run Hula, which will take San Francisco by surprise on Saturday, August 15. Makuakäne and his dancers will descend on numerous public areas throughout the city that day. Most of the spots will be chosen ahead of time, but some will be spur-of-the-moment. No one, not even Makuakäne, knows exactly how the day will unfold.

The idea for Hit & Run Hula sprouted when leaders of the local nonprofit Dancers’ Group approached Makuakäne for a project to present dance outside the theater. They asked him how he might contribute to their efforts, and he imagined hula guerrilla style.

Makuakäne can’t wait to see the spectators’ astonished looks. “Did we really just see thirty-five people dancing hula in the middle of the street?” he imagines them asking. “The less people know what’s coming, the better!” he says. “I’ll be happy if they’re pleasantly surprised, bewildered, or even slightly bothered.”

As different as this performance will be from Makuakäne’s stage shows, one thread ties them together: the element of surprise. Makuakäne likes surprising the audience—starting with something familiar and adding a twist. In the theater, it’s hula mua, his signature mashup of traditional hula movements with modern, non-Hawaiian music. In Hit & Run Hula, it’s Hawaiian dance out of context. “He likes to break people’s preconceptions of hula and shake things up—the package, the form, the way it’s experienced,” says dancer and hälau business manager Julie Mau.

Sure, some people who see a Hit & Run Hula performance will be those who knew about it and planned to be there, but the rest will be passersby, tourists, people on errands, joggers, and others who don’t expect it. Wayne Hazzard, executive director of Dancers’ Group, likes to call them the “accidental audience.” “The accidentals will get this surprise, this gift, this treat,” says Hazzard. “How fun to see a group of dancers out of the blue, across the street or off in the distance on a hillside.”

The dancers will be in for surprises, too. “It’ll be a big challenge for us to change costumes in the bus as it races across the city,” says Makuakäne. “But our hälau thrives on zany adventures.”

This article appeared in the July/August 2009 issue of In Dance.

Jenny Des Jarlais, a dancer in Makuakäne's troupe, is a full-time editor and a regular contributor to Nä Lei Hulu's annual newsletter.