Imada - HAWAIIANS ON TOUR 111 Hawaiians on Tour: Hula...

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American Quarterly, Vol. 56, No. 1 (March 2004) © 2004 American Studies Association 111 Adria L. Imada received her Ph.D. from the American Studies Program at New York University in 2003. She is a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow based at the UCLA Department of History and Asian American Studies Program. Her dissertation, “Aloha America: Hawaiian Entertainment and Cultural Politics in the U.S. Empire,” was awarded the 2003 Ralph Henry Gabriel dissertation prize from the American Studies Association. Hawaiians on Tour: Hula Circuits through the American Empire ADRIA L. IMADA University of California, Los Angeles A GROUP OF INFLUENTIAL H AWAIIANS A PRINCESS , A FAMED HULA DANCER , AND A composer—gathered at a Honolulu home in 1919 to judge a private hula performance. David and Lydia Bray, a young Hawaiian couple who were dancers themselves, had staged this unofficial “hula trial.” All we know is that girls from the ages of eight to fourteen presented their hula repertoire before the panel. Responding to nearly a century of denigration of hula by Christian missionaries, the Brays sought to reinsert hula into everyday public life. Was hula truly vulgar and obscene, as many haole (white) missionaries and Christian Hawaiians asserted? At the end of the presentation, the judges conferred and delivered a “not guilty” verdict. The hula was clean; its practitioners should not fear performing before Hawaiian and American audiences. Less than twenty years later, another kind of hula “trial” entertained Hawai‘i. A group of judges assembled again, except this time they had before them the task of choosing the best hula dancer in the islands. Sponsored by Hollywood’s Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM) and the Hawai‘i-based Consolidated Amusement Company, the “Inter- Island Hula Contest” sought to crown a “hula queen” in 1938. In the “greatest hula contest ever staged in the Islands,” nearly five hundred young Hawaiian women competed for the title for more than a month, going through several rounds of competition. 1 Each hoped to win the
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112 AMERICAN QUARTERLY grand prize: a trip to Hollywood and a chance at stardom in the United States. On almost every island, audiences followed the competition with great enthusiasm, buying tickets for preliminary rounds held at movie theaters and rooting for their favorites. On Friday nights on O‘ahu, local people attended elimination rounds at the Hawai‘i Theater and indicated by applause their choices of finalists. In September 1938 five finalists from five different islands gathered in Honolulu for a “Hula- Nui Nite” (Big Hula Nite). In an overflowing theater, a board of judges crowned the contestant from Kaua‘i, Alice Kealoha Pauole Holt, “Hula Queen” (fig. 1). Holt subsequently passed her MGM screen test in Hollywood and spent three months there, touring as an “ambassador of good will” and dancing in the American stage and film productions of Honolulu .
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This note was uploaded on 11/23/2009 for the course THEATER R1A taught by Professor Steen during the Fall '08 term at University of California, Berkeley.

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Imada - HAWAIIANS ON TOUR 111 Hawaiians on Tour: Hula...

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