Now Playing: Hawaii’s Most-Watched Hula Movie
Meet the people who brought you Hawaii’s Consolidated hula trailer. How this local favorite came to life; where the dancers are now.
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Jackie Booth, one of the six hula dancers, remembers being hesitant to be in the film. She was concerned it might be offensive to other Hawaiians. She didn’t want it to be a mockery of hula.
“I didn’t want to do a whole Hollywood kind of thing just to help Consolidated sell more popcorn,” she said.
But today Booth is one of the film’s strongest supporters. She believes it endures because “it is unifying. It pulls all of us together. It reminds us of why we live here, despite all the expense and frustration of life here, why Hawaii is special.”
Booth knows of no other movie theater in the country that has its own culturally appropriate trailer.
“Anyone who loves Hawaii can relate to it,” says Booth.
I love the trailer myself because of the sincerity of the dancers’ faces. There is nothing phony about them. They seem captivated in the moment as they move forcefully through the chant.
“We were completely into it,” says dancer Healii Heine, the daughter of hula legend Leinaala Kalama Heine.
During the filming near Oahu’s Lanai Lookout, Heine remembers walking down the side of the mountain over and over again while director Manke tried to get the lighting right. As they stepped barefoot over the smooth rocks carrying the smoking kerosene torches, Heine says they fell into a kind of trance. They danced to the chant “Kakuhihewa,” which is different than the chant that’s heard in the trailer. They whispered the words softly to themselves to keep on the same beat because there was no music playing during the filming. The soundtrack was added later in a studio.
As they moved in unison to the sound of their own voices for hours in the dark, Booth remembers, “We were in the zone. We were taken back to another time in Hawaii.”
Booth is 55 years old now. She worked as a flight attendant for Aloha Airlines and is currently employed as a bookkeeper for Ideal Construction company.
Booth says whenever she starts a new job, the other employees approach her, saying, “Oh, you’re the Consolidated girl. I tell them that was 20 pounds and two kids ago. It is amazing to think of this as my claim to fame. I have danced hula for some of the biggest stars in Hawaii, yet I will always be the Consolidated girl.”
Heine was 19 years old when the film was made. The rest of the dancers were in their 20s and 30s. Now one of them is a grandfather and another is an award-winning kumu hula. The most radiant woman in the hula line has died: Arletta Johnson Soon, who taught Hawaiian culture and language to elementary students at Kamehameha Schools. She died of breast cancer in 2008, when she was 43 years old.
Her husband, Fred Soon, says hula meant everything to Arletta. She kept dancing in Robert Cazimero’s Royal Dance Company until she was immobilized by her illness.
Dancer Arletta Johnson Soon died in 2008, but two of her three children brought her portrait to our photo shoot. From left, Kalei and Kalamaku Soon.
He says the first Christmas after she died, their children Kalei and Kumakalekini said to him: “We want to go see Mom.”
Soon says he was depressed himself and didn’t feel like taking them to the cemetery. The children told him, “No, we don’t want to go to the cemetery. We want to go to the movies.”
Soon says they ended up spending Christmas day sitting through one movie three times to watch Arletta dance in the trailer each time.
All the performers in the trailer were dancers for either Robert Cazimero or Leinaala Kalama Heine. At the time of the filming, four of them were in a nightly show in the Monarch Room at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.