By Richard Mundy
For Hometown News
"Where the humuhumu-nukunuku-a-pua'a go swimming by."
If you remember Arthur Godfrey singing that and strumming on his ukulele, then you've really dated yourself.
It also brings to mind a luau with roasted pig and Polynesian women in grass skirts and leis waving their arms and making hand gestures while swiveling their hips to the beat of native drums.
But that is no more a hula dance than the Charleston, said Waneta De Angelo, octogenarian and hula dancer extraordinaire, as she led her 19 students through various hula dances they have learned or are learning.
Her students don't just learn to dance. They learn the history of dancing, the history of Hawaii and even learn some of the language.
Ms. De Angelo's class is at the Schnebly Recreation Center, 1101 N. Atlantic Avenue, Daytona Beach, where she has been teaching since 1991. Among her students is Amber Heathy, Ms. De Angelo's granddaughter, who is quite a skilled hula dancer. Also among her students are an 80-year-young dancer and former ballroom and jazz teacher, who has been in Ms. De Angelo's class since it started.
Her students come from all over the country, including Canada, and range in age from one in her 60s, a bunch in their 70s and a few in their 80s with one at 89. One member is even from Honolulu. And they are all in great shape. "See what hula dancing can do for you?" one remarked. Another volunteered they had just finished dancing in a big show at the Ormond Beach Performing Arts Center.
Ms. De Angelo's hula career began with the United Service Organization, officially established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 to entertain the troops.
But unofficially it started a year earlier, and Ms. De Angelo was in the first unit to be deployed.
"Ten units were formed, and ours was called the Marching Along Unit," she said. "We were the first unit (from the USO) to go out. And "Eddie" (Rickenbacker) would loan us a plane whenever we needed one."
Mr. Rickenbacker was then president of Eastern Air Lines and pledged to Miss Powder (Ms. De Angelo's maiden name) to have airplanes available whenever they needed them.
"The first time I learned (the hula) was from my Dad; he was stationed in Hawaii," Ms. De Angelo said.
But hula wasn't something you could make money at back then, she said. "So, I learned ballet, I learned tap and I was a professional tap dancer."
She started getting interested in hula again and took more lessons at about age 20 -- 68 years ago -- from a Kumu, literally a source, foundation and origin, and a master teacher of Hawaiian dances.
Her dad, by the way, was the chauffeur and later aide to Gen. George C. Marshall, who would become Army Chief of Staff and Secretary of State.
"The USO only lasted until '47 and then was revived in '50," Ms. De Angelo said. "I also used to dance at the Washington, D.C. Cantina. I met my husband at the Cantina. He was a soldier."
These days, Ms. De Angelo teaches dances she's been taught over the years, but she also has choreographed many dances herself, and she's teaching those, too. There are several "branches" of hula dancing, including Tahitian and Auana.
The hula dance has seldom been considered a performing art.
Traditional hula is an interpretive dance that tells a story with its fluid arm and hand movements, describing wind blowing or fish swimming that are the lyrics of an accompanying song. In order to perform the proper gestures, the language has to be understood to the extent of understanding the correct movements.
Hula dancing is not only good for the body by keeping one active, but is also good for the mind in being able to translate the words from the songs into the appropriate hand and arm motions. "Nobody realizes it unless they've gone through it," Ms. De Angelo said.
As with many things, interest in hula waxes and wanes, but right now it has become hot again, according to Ms. De Angelo.
"The Japanese are big with hula now," she said. "They've taken over Hawaii. And they love the hula."
Ms. De Angelo's troupe performs all over, including recent stints at the Casements and a birthday party on the beach.
"We also used to go once a month on a Saturday and dance at Disney (World in Orlando)," said. "Several groups would come and we would alternate dancing all day long."
As for one of the strangest places she has entertained -- a roadhouse.
"I really didn't know what I was getting in to," she said. "Fortunately I was chaperoned, and he protected me and got me out of there quickly."
She laughs about it now, but you could tell it was more than a little frightening. And no one has ever called Hula dancing dangerous before.
For more information about Ms. De Angelo or her classes, call the Schnebly center at (386) 371-3560.