hula at the royal palace

Craig DeSilva
July 05, 2024

Kumu Nalani Keale says he didn’t choose hula. Hula chose him.

Hawaiian music and hula are in his koko (blood). His dad, Wilfred Nalani (“Moe”) Keale, was a longtime Hawaiian entertainer who sang with Eddie Kamae and the Sons of Hawaii. His mom, Patricia Andrade, was a kumu who first taught Keale how to dance.

Growing up in Palolo Valley during the Hawaiian renaissance in the 1970s, Keale remembers backyard parties where family, friends, and neighbors gathered to play Hawaiian music late into the night, including his cousin, Israel Kamakawiwoole.

“Hawaiian music and dance are my vessel,” he says. “They always bring me back home to my center. It’s who I am.”

Kumu Nalani Keale volunteers teaching hula to the community at Queen Emma Summer Palace.

In addition to starting Halau Kaulakahi, Keale also volunteers to teach hula as a way of giving back to the community where he lives. When he lived in Kaimuki, he volunteered at the Waikıki Community Center. He moved to Nuuanu in 2019 and now volunteers at the Queen Emma Summer Palace, just a block away from his home.

“I feel completely at peace when I’m here,” he says. “There’s a feeling of reverence for the queen and her contributions for the Hawaiian people.”

The hula classes attract visitors and locals from the neighborhood and other parts of the island. Participants have different levels of experience and range from keiki to kupuna, including his regulars at the head of the class known as the “front-row aunties.”

He starts classes with students learning basic hula movements, such as hand and feet placements, before moving on to teaching an auana (modern hula) while singing and strumming his ukulele. He explains the background of the mele (song), the meaning behind the lyrics, and how the motions match the music. 

Live music helps Keale's haumana better connect to the meaning of their dance.

“Live music is such a great vibe to uplift and bring out the dancer in them,” he says. “I make sure they get a good dose of Hawaiian culture. Hopefully, what inspires me will inspire them to connect to the music and hopefully leave happy.”

One of his regular students is playwright Lee Cataluna, who hadn’t danced hula since she was in college. “Taking the classes is one of the best things I’ve done for myself,” she says. “It reconnects me to my Hawaiian heritage and the joy I felt dancing when I was younger.”

Cataluna is writing a play about Queen Emma, making it even more meaningful to dance hula at the palace. She enjoys the physical and mental aspects of learning new dances and the personal bonds formed with other dancers and Keale. “He’s very inclusive and takes his culture and heritage seriously. But he still makes it fun and commands the class in a gentle way so it’s OK for us to laugh at our mistakes,” she says.

For Keale, hula is his way of spreading aloha.

“I practice my Hawaiian culture wholeheartedly. I do my best to live and spread aloha vibe,” he says.

Queen Emma Summer Palace

A glimpse into Hawaii’s royal past
Tucked away in Nuuanu valley, Queen Emma Summer Palace was the retreat for King Kamehameha IV and his queen consort, Emma Rooke, and their son Prince Albert Edward from 1857 until her death in 1885.

Built in 1848, it’s older than Iolani Palace in Downtown Honolulu. In 1915, the nonprofit Daughters of Hawaii acquired the palace to prevent it from being demolished for a baseball field. They now operate the palace as a museum. Called Hanaiakamalama, the palace is listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places and houses a collection of Queen Emma’s belongings, antiques, furnishings, and royal regalia.

In addition to hula classes, the palace offers classes in Hawaiian quilting, ukulele, lei making, healing through yoga, and more. There are monthly talk story sessions about various Hawaiian topics featuring guest speakers.

For more information about the museum and classes, visit or call 808-595-3167.

Photos by Romeo Collado


Share this article

By commenting, you agree to Island Scene's Terms of Use.