Dancers Share the Healing Power of Hula

The dance’s spiritual aspects have helped this Hawaii transplant through turbulent times.

There’s much more to the art of hula dancing than the cartoonish image of a dashboard bobble ornament.  

“Hula is a spiritually based practice, and it’s considered to be healing to both the observer and to the dancers themselves,” explains Malia Chow, owner of Nā Hale Studios. “It also creates a strong sense of what we call ohana, or family, of everyone surrounding you. People are attracted to that – it’s not a competitive dance, we all strive together.” 

Chow is the real deal, born in Hawaii. Her mother was a Wisconsinite stationed there with the Air Force; her father, Ronald, was a native Hawaiian in the Army who also picked up gigs as a musician at clubs in Waikiki. But in 1981, the year Malia and her twin sister, Maile, were born, deaths in her mother’s family led the Chows to trade palm trees for pines when they moved to the Milwaukee area.  


 

 

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Malia began learning the art of hula around age 4. In 1994, the Chows met dance and music producers John and Amy Malo, who had Wisconsin investors for a Hawaiian-themed show they wanted to produce. They began training Malia, Maile and Ronald, and the crew adopted their namesake, forming a performance group called Hale O Malo (House of Malo).  

Tragedy struck in 2004, when Malia’s sister was murdered, and again in 2007, when her father died in her arms after suffering a ruptured aneurysm at band practice. Malia inherited her father’s role as the musician and emcee of Hale O Malo. At that difficult time, Chow relied on the healing power of hula more than ever, and she was inspired to share it with others.  

Requests for hula lessons at Hale O Malo shows led to Malia’s concept for Nā Hale Studios, a venue and nonprofit located in Butler. The space, which opened in 2018, offers classes for all ages. It’s open to anyone interested in Hawaiian and Polynesian dance, ukulele lessons and culturally inspired fitness programs. 

“Nā Hale means many houses, and my vision was to house ideas of enriching and inspiring lives through culture, music and the arts,” Chow says. “It’s in honor of indigenous wisdom and the spirit of aloha, which means love, respect and appreciation – all things positive.”


DO IT! You can sign up for a hula class by emailing Chow at nahalestudios@gmail.com. More info: nahalesudios.com


 

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s January issue.

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