A lei of close friendships

Kalei (left) and Alana dance the hula in unison at the Kaleiokapilialoha, a hula school in Brooklyn Center. (Josh Nielsen/Review)

Students at Kaleiokapilialoha practice a dance to the song “Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai (Plants of the Sea).” (Josh Nielsen/Review)

Kalei (front center) poses in traditional Hawaiian garb with veteran hula dancers (from left) Alana, Mikalalani and Lu’ukia. (Josh Nielsen/Review)

Roseville resident teaches Hawaiian dance, values at hula school

Her name is Dana Marie Kaleina’ala O Ka’ahuona'ali’i Enstad, but everyone calls her Kalei. Originally from the balmy Hawaiian island of Oahu, Enstad moved to chilly Minnesota more than 30 years ago and has remained rooted in the cold-weather climate ever since. She misses Hawaii with its warm weather and ‘aloha spirit,’ but she’s doing her best to keep it close: the Roseville resident runs a hula school in Brooklyn Center.

A long way from home

Enstad grew up dancing the hula in Hawaii, taking lessons at a local community center.

When she was sixteen, she feared she might have to quit hula after her dad lost his job. But at her teacher’s insistence, she stayed in class, teaching hula to children in lieu of payment for her own lessons.

Her hard work paid off when she was given the chance of a lifetime: to travel the world performing the hula with a group of dancers. Her first job sent her to Japan; her second brought her to Minnesota.

It was in Minnesota that she met her husband.

“From there, it’s history,” she says. “I’m still here.”

Continuing education

Enstad has been teaching hula on and off in Minnesota since she moved to the state in 1980.

She taught at community centers, but wasn’t satisfied by the short six to eight week sessions.

“I felt that more time was needed for (the dancers) to grasp the full meaning of aloha,” she says on her website. “I wanted something more permanent.”

In 1994, she met Maka Jacques, another “Hawaiian transplant,” who welcomed her into his halau, or hula school, where dancers study hula in depth.

“It’s a continuous learning experience like ballet or tap or jazz,” Enstad says. “You learn more songs, (and) you learn more technique.”

Jacques passed away in 1996 and the school traded hands to a different kumu, or teacher. When that kumu retired in 2001, Enstad was again given the chance of a lifetime when she was asked to take over the school.

“I was honored, excited and nervous,” she says. 

The school officially became Enstad’s in 2003 when it changed its name to Kaleiokapilialoha, which means “the lei of close friendships.”

More than a dance school

Located in Brooklyn Center, Kaleiokapilialoha offers instruction aimed at beginner, intermediate and advanced students of hula. Right now, there are about 20 women in the class, most of whom are 22-62 years old.

The school is dedicated to the traditional styles of hula and Hawaiian culture.

“What I appreciate and respect more than anything about (Kaleiokapilialoha) is the fact that not only do we learn hula, but we learn about the traditions of Hawaii,” says Sue Slettehaugh, a native of Minnesota who has been with the halau for four years.

The dancers honor Hawaiian traditions. They chant before beginning class as a sign of respect to the teacher and the hula ancestors. They also go by Hawaiian names in class, given to them by family, past hula teachers or Enstad. Slettehaugh’s name, for instance, is Pohai Kealoha, which means “surrounded by love.”

The dancers also learn about Hawaiian culture.

“We learn about the language, we learn about the dances that we do, the history, so it’s not just a school where you go to dance,” Slettehaugh says.

For Enstad, learning hula without learning about the culture would be disrespectful.

“There is the vocabulary and the culture and the meaning behind these motions (of the dance) that I need my students to know, because there’s no sense dancing it if you don’t know what you’re dancing about,” Enstad says. 

The meaning behind the motions

There’s a reason Enstad cannot separate hula and Hawaiian culture--hula is a dance with meaning. Ancient Hawaiians had no written language, so myths, legends and history were recorded through chants and hula.

“Everything was told (through) story (and) many of those stories were told through hula,” Slettehaugh explains. “It’s important for people to know that (hula is) really more than the glitz and the glamor and the shaking of the hips--it’s a really a profound piece of (Hawaiian) culture.”

The Kaleiokapilialoha dancers share their love of hula and Hawaiian culture at performances in the community. This year, they performed at the Minnesota History Center and the Festival of Nations. Small groups also perform at events like birthday parties, anniversaries, fundraisers and luaus.

“If we didn’t continue to do it, it would die,” says Tammy Hurbis, a native of Oahu who has been with Enstad’s school for more than 10 years. In class, Hurbis goes by her Hawaiian name Lu’ukia, a name passed down through generations of her family that means “purity.”

Like Enstad, Hurbis sees hula as a way to keep close to her roots.

“There’s still a connection to home,” she says. “I can still be with people who love the culture (and) the music...who love the same thing that I do.”

United by their love of hula and Hawaii, the Kaleiokapilialoha dancers live up to their name as a lei of close friendships. 

“It really is a form of ‘ohana’ or family,” Hurbis says.

For more information about Enstad’s halau, visit the Kaleiokapilialoha Facebook page or kaleiokapilialoha.org--or stop by and take a peek at one of their classes. True to the aloha spirit, visitors are always welcome.

Kaylin Creason can be reached at staffwriter@lillienews.com or 651-748-7825.


Students of the Kaleiokapilialoha hula school in Brooklyn Park perform at a book launch party at Woodbury's Central Park on Sunday, June 15.
Roseville resident Kalei Enstad, center back, owns the school, the name of which means "the lei of close friendships."

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