Eric Ring, front, used to make fun of his wife and daughter for taking hula dancing. Now, he’s one of the students enrolled in a men’s hula class in Ashland. Also pictured are Van A. Fleming, left, and Jeff Reade, right. - Photos by Andrew Kemp

Hula Guys

Impromptu hula performances by his wife and 12-year-old daughter moved Eric Ring to "make it a family thing."

"I always used to pretend hula-dance when they were doing it and make fun of 'em," Ring says. "They're not laughing anymore, though."

That's because Ring signed up for a class in Ashland that's teaching men the ancient Hawaiian art of telling stories and honoring their ancestors, gods and the natural world. Since last fall, 10 men have been meeting weekly to exercise, socialize and unlock their rhythmic potential through hula.

"What most people think of as hula is really a hokey, schlocky Hollywood version," says Scott McGuire, 49, of Ashland.

Although his wife was studying hula, McGuire never considered following suit until he watched the PBS documentary "Na Kamalei: The Men of Hula." Screened at last year's Ashland independent Film Festival, "Na Kamalei" depicts the origins of a men's hula school and its journey to Hawaii's Merrie Monarch Festival, a week-long cultural event also known as the "Super Bowl of hula."

"The film is educational and informative and really entertaining," says dance instructor Andrea Luchese, who recommended "Na Kamalei" to her students.

"It certainly addresses this notion of men not being able to dance."

Intrigued by hula, McGuire approached Luchese about adding hula instruction for men to her complement of women's classes. Member of the hula performance troupe Hula O Kahawai, Luchese says she still questioned whether her expertise could extend to the opposite sex. Taking a workshop with Robert Cazimero, founder of the hula school profiled in "Na Kamalei," banished her doubts.

"It's kind of completing the circle in a way," Luchese says. "It's just opening up possibilities."

While Luchese advertised the class, McGuire spread word among his New Warriors men's group. Wtih some already familiar with "Na Kamalei" and others inspired by McGuire's enthusiasm, 14 men showed up for the first class.

"We were all surprised," says Phil Gahr of Jacksonville. "I was surprised by the diversity of the guys."

"We kept coming together ... to move," says 41-year-old Van Fleming of Ashland. "It was really refreshing."

Luchese teaches hula's ancient style, called kahiko, distinguished from modern hula by its lack of musical accompaniment. Chanting and drums lead dancers through strong, angular poses, rather than the flowing motions usually performed for modern-day entertainment, Luchese says.

"It's really challenging for your brain because you've got to be able to do three things at once: chanting, dancing and moving your arms," says Gahr, the oldest student at age 69.

"It's good exercise," he says, explaining that hula moves body parts neglected even by his regimen of tennis, jogging and horseback riding.

"It's actually pretty rigorous because you use your lower legs a lot," says McGuire, adding that he notices similarities between hula and martial arts.

"There's a whole unifying experience of it, too. There's definitely a mystery of some kind in there."

Ring, 48, says he values hula because it isn't "hard on his body," but also because it takes his mind elsewhere, relieving him of the week's concerns. Meeting a new group of men and being able to spend time with them each week was a bonus.

"I'm in a girl house, so it's a nice break from that."

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail

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