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A new approach to exercise -- taking a hula class -- draws a crowd in Inner Southeast

ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - The Woodstock hula dance class participants shown here are - bottom row, left to right - Cathy Ingram, Pauline Love, Mary Ellen Andre, and Mindy Gramberg; top row, from left: Chingling Reed, Aurelia Wight, Cathy Taylor, instructor Lisa Chang, Cindy Kapiolani Selig, and Karen Williams. For many months, word has been spreading about a hula class at the Woodstock Community Center. That's not surprising, given that participants are passionate about what it offers, and are proud that it has a strong sense of community and family.

That sense of family which participants mention is due to instructor Lisa Chang's approach to the class – which she travels to from Aloha, near Hillsboro, to present in Woodstock. At each dance class, a "sit-down" time in the middle of the ninety-minute session is set aside to learn the Hawaiian language and culture, and to pronounce the names of the dances and the "Body Songs."

One result of the family-like cohesion of the class has been the creation of a "Hula Hands Cookbook of Favorite Soups" that the group has published. Classmate Aurelia Wight writes: "Over the months, we have grown as a team, working together to perfect the Hawaiian hula with accurate footwork and hand gestures."

This particular "family" is open to all – and keeps expanding, month after month. On a recent Friday morning, nine hula students from Southeast Portland shared with THE BEE what they like about the class. These comments include the names of the interviewees and their neighborhoods:

Karen Williams, Eastmoreland: "It's pretty appropriate that the instructor lives in Aloha, don't you think? Because of the 'sit-down' half-way through, we have a sense of community."

Cathy Ingram, Sellwood: "I looked for a hula class in Portland for a long, long time. It was hard to find one in this area. When I found this one at the Woodstock Community Center, I was overjoyed."

Cathy Taylor, Westmoreland: "I was looking for a low-impact class near my neighborhood for people over 60, and I wanted to meet other women my age that live near me."

Aurelia Wight, Eastmoreland: "It's fabulous. I've met people, and after class we go to lunch each week. I've done a lot of PP&R classes, and this hula class is very special. It is like writing poetry, which I do."

Mindy Gramberg, Mt. Tabor: "I saw this class was for people over sixty, so I knew there was no pressure. I like the cultural pieces; we made lei's at Lisa's studio, and it was so fun." Mary Ellen Andre, Richmond: "I was looking for something to help with balance and fall prevention. There is no Community Center in my neighborhood. When I walked in the door here it felt like 'family' from the very beginning – a sense of community."

Chingling Reed, Sunnyside: "I used to watch hula dances in Eugene, and then I found this class. It's true – I feel right at home here, more so than in Taiwan, where classes have less camaraderie."

Cindy Kapi'olani Selig, Brentwood-Darlington: "In the '80's I was interested in Hawaiian culture, but I had a job and no time. In retirement, I was looking for a class that would be good for my body and mind, which the choreography offers. I didn't expect a real sense of family. And this is a perfect place for hula – with wooden floors, mirrors, and a calm atmosphere."

Pauline Love, Sellwood: "In Aloha [Oregon] I took a Tahitian dance class, but it took an hour to get there. The commute nearly killed us. I used to dance hula in Hawai'i. It is good exercise, and it's affordable!"

At the end of these interviews, Cathy Ingram added an observation about the possible closure of some of Portland's Community Centers – including Woodstock: "People really support the Portland Parks and Recreation tax levies. So why can't we be sustainable, like the library? Community Centers affect so many people, as the library does. And, like the library, there is inclusion – they're available to everyone."

Instructor Lisa Chang is owner of Hula Halau 'Ohana Holo'oko'a, an Aloha-based school, where she has taught hula dance along with Hawaiian language, stories, and songs for twenty years. For information on Chang's background, search her name online. Chang's own website is: www.hulaaloha.org

The Woodstock Hula Dance Class, for those sixty years and older, is on Friday mornings 10-11:30, at the Woodstock Community Center, 5905 S.E. 43rd Avenue. The next session runs from June 15 through July 13. The cost is $33.75 per month, or $5 for a drop-in class. At last report, a few openings may still remain in the June-July session. To register for the class call 503/823-7529, or register in person at the Woodstock Community Center.

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