AVONDALE — Aloha has arrived in the Midwest.
Fans of hula and Hawaiian culture have an opportunity to learn traditional music and dance from experienced instructors on Saturday, Sept. 12, when the new Aloha Center Chicago opens at 3065 N. Rockwell Ave., at the basement level of the Avondale Vintage Market.
“We’re happy to call Chicago home,” executive director Lanialoha Lee said. "The first Hawaiians arrived in the Midwest in 1886, and on Saturday, the Aloha Center opens. It's the first and only one of its kind that I know of in the Midwest."
Saturday's opening includes free workshops from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Participants get to try out ukulele and hula (for kids ages 6 to 11), Tahitian drumming and a fitness workout inspired by Maori and Tahitian `Ori dance.
Students can also register for classes at the opening, including the popular cigar box uke, a three-hour workshop where students fashion the four-stringed instrument from a cigar box. Classes begin on Tuesday, Sept. 15, with lessons offered on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Lee currently teaches ukulele and hula at the Old Town School of Folk Music, where she has taught for 19 years. She has received grants from the nonprofit 3arts and the Illinois Arts Council, and she has successfully crowd-funded $5,500 for "`Ukulize it! Power Strums 101."
Lee hopes that the center will serve as a place to preserve and perpetuate native Hawaiian culture in the Midwest. Classes are designed and taught in the traditional Hawaiian way, which is an oral tradition passed from teacher to student. Lee was taught by her grandmother.
“My teachings came down from generations before, over my entire lifetime, through the hand of my grandma, Caroline Namahoe Ha`o, who came here to the Midwest, to raise me in the old Hawaiian ways. I teach the way my grandmother taught me, I instilled Hawaiian values within every student I had ever taught,” Lee said.
Opening the ACC is Lee's labor of love. She teamed up with six other Chicago-based Polynesian and Hawaiian organizations to establish the center: Ke Ali`i Victoria Ka`iulani Hawaiian Civic Club Chicago, Kupa`a Pacific Island Resources, Ke Kula Kupa`a O Ka Pakipika (Kupa`a’s School of the Pacific Arts), Festival of Aloha Chicago, Pacific Soundz Productions and `Ohana Entertainment.
With such groups as partners, Lee hopes that the ACC will focus on native Hawaiian music and dance, and serve as a starting point for groups and individuals whose lineage stems from Hawaii and Polynesia to reach back into their roots.
Check out the videos below for a glimpse of Lee's ukulele and hula classes at the Old Town School.
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