Hula and Tahitian Dance Steps

Every class begins with a warm-up where both hula and Tahitian dance steps are called out and reviewed. To help you recognize the terms during class, below is a list of some of the dance steps.  (Source:

ʻAi haʻa: hula step executed with bended knee

ʻAi kāwele, Kāwele: haʻa step; one foot makes a half circle forward and to the side without touching the floor; usually in combination with other steps as the holo or ʻuwehe; used in “A Koʻolau Au”

ʻAmi: rotation of hips

ʻAmi kāhela, ʻAmi poepoe: hip rotates with the weight on the right hip as the left heel lifts very slightly, then reversing this action

ʻAmi kūkū: like the ʻami kāhela except the revolutions are smaller, faster and in groups of three; sometimes combined with two slower kāhele revolutions

ʻAui: haʻa step where the dancer turns to the side and points the foot out once or several times, drawing the foot well back between each pointing; at the same time the body is tipped with the lowered hand pointing to the outpointing toes and the other hand raised in the opposite direction. In the hula “Kaulilua”, this step is immediately executed upon the kahea “pa”

Hela: one foot is placed at about a 45 degree angle to the front/side with the weight on the opposite hip and the knees bent; the foot is then returned to the original position and the step is repeated with the other foot.

Holo: running holo step to the side, similar to kaholo except the feet are not necessarily brought together. Used in “Aua Ia I Kamapuaʻa”

Hue: revolving of the hips in time with the drummer, who beats as fast as possible, to see which dancer can dance the longest. Similar to ʻai ʻami and done at the end of the program

Kaʻapuni: haʻa step now called around the island; the dancer pivots on the ball of one foot in a complete circle; the other foot takes four or more steps to complete the circuit

Kāhele: Regular ʻami rotations. See ʻAmi kuku

Kāholo: the haʻa vamp step, more common in modern than in ancient dances, consisting of 4 counts:
#1 one foot is extended in a straight line to the side
#2 the other foot is brought along side
#3 first foot is again extended in a straight line to the side
#4 the other foot is again brought along side the first foot

Kāwelu, Kalākaua: One foot taps time with the heel, the toes being stationary while the other foot, flat position, steps forward and back, the same distance, 2 or more times. The step is repeated, reversing the feet. This step is called Kalakaua in English because it was used to begin the haʻa hula dedicated to King David Kalākaua. Some halaus use the term kalākaua when this step is done in place to differentiate from kāwelu as the same step (front and back) that moves progressively to either side

Lele: the dancer walks forward lifting the heel with each step, with a slight inward movement

Lele ʻUwehe: the ʻuwehe and lele steps are combined. Step with right foot, bringing the left foot to a hela position, bring left foot back into position beside right foot, then ʻuwehe. Repeat on other side

ʻO: The hip is thrust outward in a circular “O” movement; similar to the kawelu except the foot pivots while turning to the opposite direction

Ue, Uwe: haʻa step where the kahea: “e” imperative and “ue” is announced to the drummer and the beat is changed. The dancer extends the right foot forward with toes pointed, while both arms are brought forward to chest level with hands crossed and fingers tipped upward; the left hand stays up, while the right arm and foot swing back in an outward arc, ending with right foot pointing back. The right arm and foot are moved forward and the step is repeated to the left. Then three short steps are taken forward turning the body to the right. In the last movement, the left hand is forward and the right foot and arm are back. This step is often used to end pahu hula, i.e.”Kaulilua”

ʻUlili: similar to ʻuwehe except only one heel at a time is raised.

ʻUwehe, ʻuehe, ʻuweke: one foot is lifted with weight shifting to the opposite hip as that foot is “Uehe” lowered; both knees are then pushed forward by the quick raising of the heels, with continued swaying of the hips from side to side. The actions are then repeated in reverse.
Kao: this step name is widely used but there is no origin for its usage or meaning for the word
Usage: sway side to side

Kuʻi: hop onto the right foot moving to the right while bringing the left heel with the toes pointing to the extreme left, approximately 6″ in front of the right knee being sure that the body doesn’t bounce (isolate action to the legs). The hop is executed 4 times then repeated to the left. Note: a loud stomping sound is preferred when executing the hops
Definition: 1. To pound, punch, strike; to beat out; to churn, 2.To join, stitch, sew, splice, united; joined; seam Hula kuʻi, any interpretive hula so called since the days of Kalakaua; literally, joined

Kuʻi Molokaʻi: similar to the kʻui except while hopping to the right as in the kuʻi, the left leg is thrust outward to the left, fully extended. After the 4th count to the right, repeat the movements to the left. Emphasize the stomping sound
Definition Molokaʻi: this dance (see hula kuʻi Molokaʻi) originated on the island of Molokaʻi

Hilo Kuʻi: start by lightly touching the ground with the right foot in an alternating heel-toe movement. Starting with the heel and ending with the heel in 7 counts, with the foot returning to the starting posiion on the 8th count. When placing the heel, the toes need to be pointing to the right at a 45′ angle. When placing the toes, the foot should be perpendicular to the ground with the heels now taking the extreme right position. All the while, the opposite foot bearing the entire body weight shuffles across the floor to the right, alternating heel and toes, also in an 8 count. However, on the 1st count, the left foot remains stationary and begins the shuffle on the 2nd count with the heel moving to the right first. The shuffle is accomplished by placing all the weight of the body onto the ball of the left foot as the heel is moved to the right, then transferring the weight to the heel as the ball of the left foot is then moved the right. This movement is repeated until the right foot is returned to the starting positon on the 8th count. The entire process is now repeated in the opposite direction
Definition Hilo: to twist, braid, spin; twisted, braided

Kaholo Huli Hapahā: Quarter turn or holo/vamp step in a semi-circle. The name was coined by Kalani Poʻomaiahelani