Lots of young children love to dance. But eight-year-old Sha-Lei Kamauu of Ewa Beach, Hawaii, enjoys it so much that during summer vacation she practices from 4 to 12 hours every day except Sunday.
Of course, if you came from the family that Sha-Lei does, you would probably be a dancer, too. Sha-Lei performs the hula, the traditional dance of Hawaii, just like her mother and grandmother do, and like her great-grandmother, her great-great-grandmother, and her great-great-great-grandmother did. That is six generations of hula dancers. And most of them have been hula teachers, too. What’s more, her father is a descendant of one of the best-known Latter-day Saint hula dancers in Hawaii—Iolani Luahine.
Sha-Lei’s grandparents Howard and Olana Ai are both kuma hula (hula teachers) at their own halau hula (hula school). They are widely known for helping students develop their talents. For example, Grandpa Howard’s boys’ team has won the first-place international hula trophy nine years in a row. Grandma Olana teaches principles along with the dances—principles like beginning practice with prayer, always dressing modestly, and honoring your mother and father. For her and her students, hula is a way to express gratitude for God’s creations and love and appreciation for others.
Sha-Lei and her brother, Chaz, 10, take hula lessons from their grandparents. They also spend a lot of time visiting Grandma and Grandpa at their home. They play with the extended family’s pet, Ginger the dog. They admire the collection of Hawaiian musical instruments, and when Grandpa brings two or three of the instruments down from the shelf, they all perform an impromptu concert. At other times they join their parents and grandparents in singing hymns around the piano. That’s another thing about Sha-Lei’s family—they know a lot about music.
They also know a lot about Hawaii. In addition to teaching voice and ukulele lessons, Sha-Lei and Chaz’s parents teach Hawaiian studies at schools on Hickam Air Force Base. So the children know a lot about the history and culture of the islands where they live. Sha-Lei was recently baptized, and she is pleased to tell people that Liliuokalani, the last queen of Hawaii, was also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Baptism is important,” Sha-Lei says. “It means I have promised to always remember Jesus Christ and that I should be a good example of someone who follows His teachings.”
Sha-Lei is also happy to tell people her full name: Sha-Lei Elizabeth Kanaiokanoe Kiowao‘o Nu‘uanu Lindsey Kamauu. One of the reasons her parents gave her the Hawaiian part of her name was to remind her of the place they were living when she was born. It means “the beauty of the misty rains from Nu‘uanu.” Sha-Lei can also tell you that her family has ancestors of 13 different nationalities—Hawaiian, Samoan, Tongan, Native American, Spanish, Scottish, Dutch, Irish, Welsh, Belgian, English, Danish, and Chinese. Doing family history work can be particularly exciting when your last name is Kamauu!
Sha-Lei also likes family home evening. As her mother explains, “We love being together, and we spend so much time together that we don’t just have family home evening, we have family home life!”
“Mom and Dad are always telling us about how they got married in the temple,” Sha-Lei says. “I always think, ‘I want to be married there, too!’” As for Chaz, he says he will go to the temple, too—first to do baptisms for the dead starting at age 12, then as he prepares to serve a mission when he turns 19.
But for now, the family is content to be playing music together; singing at Church meetings; learning about the gospel, the temple, ancestors, history, customs, and worthwhile traditions; and enjoying dancing the hula together—maybe for six generations more.