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Lisa Chang, founder of a hula school in Beaverton, celebrates almost 20 years of teaching.

Everyone is "ohana," or family, at Hula Halau 'Ohana Holo'oko'a in Beaverton.

Started by Lisa Chang, the Polynesian dance school is celebrating 20 years of teaching the hula this year.

Now located at 12570 S.W. Farmington Road in Beaverton, the school offers adult and children hula instruction, as well as Tahitian dance classes and Tahitian drumming.

"We like to connect people here," said Chang, the school's kumu hula, or a master teacher of hula. "We have lunch after class. We see people make lifelong friends, go on vacations together. I think they stay because they love the social aspect of it. I have students telling me this is what they look forward to every week."

Hula began in ancient times and was performed to the sound of chants, but after the ukulele and guitar came to Hawaii, another form was born, Chang said.

Every island in Hawaii has a different style of hula, with the Beaverton school focusing on hula from the island of Kauai, Chang said.

"It is a lineage. It depends where you learn from," Chang said. "My kumu was from Kauai and she taught me this style."

While she teaches, Chang also takes the time to learn more in her free time by taking classes herself.

"As a student, you are not going to be perfect. It is persevering," Chang said. "It is good for teachers to take classes, like recently I took a hip-hop class. Then, you know what it is like to be a student again."

Class begins with two chants before dancing begins. One is to prepare students to forget what is happening in the outside the studio walls, and the other is to grant knowledge to be taught, Chang said.

"Workshops are always encouraged," Chang said. "It is said that all knowledge is not taught at one school. These chants we say I learned in a workshop. It wasn't something I had when I was a student."

Growing up in Hillsboro, Chang attended Oregon State University where she was first introduced to the dance.

"OSU was my Hawaii connection," Chang said. "Growing up in Hillsboro back then, it wasn't as diverse as today. When I went to OSU, it was my first chance to have friends that looked like me. They were from Hawaii, and they told me to join the Hawaii Club. When the lu'au came around, they told me to learn hula. That was my first time I really had the flavor of hula."

After graduating, Chang moved to the Bay Area in California and continued her hula education. She took hula classes for six years before moving back to Oregon after the birth of her son.

Joining Portland's Hawaii Club in the 1990s, she was offered a teaching position, tasked with spreading her knowledge of hula across the area.

Two decades later, Chang has instructed hundreds of people, and said every day bring something new.

"At first, I relied on word of mouth," Chang said. "I'd have people ask me to teach their children. I started teaching them in my garage in Aloha."

The school also teaches Tahitian dance, a similar, faster style to hula, Chang said.

Many students take several classes or help Chang teach people starting out. For some, the process is cathartic.

"It is more than just learning steps and hands, it is really an expression of what the songwriter is trying to convey," said Patty Sammis, who has studied hula under Chang for 15 years. "You show it through movement. I had to learn not just what to do with my feet, but it was about learning the language and culture. You don't realize it at first but there is so much more to it."

Every year, the school holds its biggest performance called a ho'ike, or exhibition, to showcase the work each class has accomplished in the past year.

The annual recital is a celebration put on by dozens of students and serves as a fundraiser for the Keiko Foundation, an Aloha-based nonprofit working to cultivate Hawaiian language, arts and activities in the Pacific Northwest.

Some of the money from the performance goes to scholarships for local children, to be able to pay for dance classes and the clothes for the performances, Rona Friesen, president of the Kiako Foundation said.

"How happy the audience is when you can bring this tiny piece of aloha to them, it is fun to go and have people respond to what you are doing," Sammis said. "I keep coming back because of that. You never know what you will get when you go to a show."

To learn more about classes and where the school will perform next, visit

By Janae Easlon
Features Editor
Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
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