3 Hawaiian Words That Can Change the Way You Dance

We can all change this divisive world we are in today and bring everyone together, one step at a time, starting with the little things we do within our daily lives. So why not do it within our dance community?

This started as an article regarding courtesy on the dance floor relating to women asking men to dance. But as I started writing and looking at what was happening around us, the divisiveness that keeps permeating in our society, I decided to take a different approach and not emphasize differences but to unite, to focus on what is really at the core of a gesture, an action, a request or a response.

I asked dancers, 10 men and 10 women, three simple questions to inspire me:
1. How do you feel when a man/woman asks you to dance?
2. What circumstances led you to refuse a dance when asked?
3. How does if feel to get rejected after asking a man/woman to dance?

I was not sure what I was going to do with the answers – I was just curious really, but I was intrigued at how quickly people responded. I took note of how lengthy or short their explanations were and how their passion for dance was simply palpable. Although their answers were fascinating, revealing and at times controversial – I realized there was more to this issue than just being asked to dance. Whether the person was doing the asking or being asked, or whether someone was rejected or had to do the refusing – it goes way beyond all that mundane, perhaps currently even trivial interactions.

Indeed the world is changing; here in the USA we finally have our first woman as presidential candidate, while many countries have had their own shares of strong, powerful, visionary female leaders in the past and present. So why are women on the dance floor still waiting to be asked instead of feeling free to ask a man herself? During these current times of divisiveness and violence, are women in fear of rejection? Do they fear inadequacy? Do they fear not being beautiful enough – young or hot enough on the dance floor? And does it even matter? Should that be the only problem in today’s world, what great achievement we would have!

What if we simply refute outdated gender constructs and expectations, and challenge the status quo by transcending the binary narrative of gender roles and simply approach asking for a dance as an opportunity for peace between human beings. If only we can take those 4 minutes that can never be taken back and make them meaningful moments in our lives and create a magical sense of peace. What if we approach each dance with these three words from the Hawaiian language to which I always seem to be drawn: Ilihia, Pono and Aloha

After living in Hawaii for the last year and half, I am learning so much about myself through these three words, which I apply in my everyday life and in my dancing.

Ilihia means stricken with awe, reverence, thrilled by beauty. What if we asked someone to dance as a way to show reverence for that person, or if being asked for a dance, was a thrill to see the beauty of that person’s confidence and desire to connect with you? What if we approach each dance with a sense of wonder, of awe? – What a beautiful dance that would be.

Pono means goodness, well-being, beneficial, in perfect order, carefully, properly, so what if we asked someone to dance as an opportunity to make good with one another, to set aside differences, past disagreements, and use dance to put things back in perfect order again? What if asking for a dance is a way to amend hurts, instead of using dance as way to punish someone by simply refusing to dance with them? Perhaps gender roles defined by social constructs become irrelevant when a dance can become a conduit for peace between two people.

Aloha has been used ad nauseam to say hello and goodbye, without understanding its deeper meaning: love, compassion, kindness, grace, and charity. So when being asked to dance, perhaps we should think of it as a greeting of love from the other person and an opportunity to show compassion and respect for the difference in levels of ability, to show kindness no matter the race or age. What if dancing with aloha means showing grace when saying no and perhaps even guaranteeing the next dance to show charity?

What if dancing with aloha means to be generous with your partner and taking the responsibility of leaving the other person in a better place than when you encountered them at first?

By approaching each request, acceptance or rejection with those three words in mind, we can hope to transcend all these outdated social and gender constructs. What a world that would be if we transform those actions as ways to extend one’s sense of peace with another human perhaps one dance at a time, one song at a time. What if we make those four to five minutes filled with affection for a person, with well being for both and simply leaving both man and woman struck with awe by the end of the dance. Let’s make that our goal next time and simply ask for a dance with Ilihia, Pono and Aloha, whether you are a man or woman and spread a little peace.


About: Marie Alonzo Snyder

Marie Alonzo Snyder is a professional dancer, choreographer, international scholar, author and educator. Born in the Philippines, Marie was raised in Italy and eventually settled in New York City attending New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and earning her BFA and MFA in Dance. Later she also earned her Doctorate from Teachers College Columbia University. Marie is artistic director of Tangerine Dance Collective, a founding member of the West Windsor Arts Council, co-founder of the “I’ll have what she’s having…” Dance Project, NJ pioneer in Dance for Parkinson’s and Zouk on Wheelchair. She has been dancing Zouk since 2011, is a certified ZoukNY instructor and performed with Jeremey Adam Rey’s rawZouk team in NY and NC. Marie is happy to have found a new home in the Big Island of Hawaii where she has introduced Brazilian Zouk to Kona, Holualoa, Waimea and soon Hilo at the University of HI. She leads the Big Island Zouk community teaching ZOUK HI: Zouk with Aloha. Her first book "The Art and Sensuality of Brazilian Zouk dancing" (the first book on Zouk published in the USA), was recently published by Larry Czerwonka Publisher and it can be purchased at www.livezoukaloha.com or at amazon in Italy, UK, France, Spain, Germany, Brazil, Canada, India, Japan.

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