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First Merrie Monarch hula competition

First begun in 1964 as a way to attract tourists to tsunami-devastated Hilo, the Merrie Monarch festival didn't become a success until it refashioned itself into a cultural event showcasing Hawaiian hula. Originally sponsored by the Hawai'i Chamber of Commerce, in 1968 the festival was taken over by Dorothy (Dottie) Thompson who served as festival chairperson. George Na'ope, one of the festival's original creators, worked with Thompson to make the event a focal point of cultural rejuvenation as well as a testing ground for serious kumu hula and their students.

The festival is named after King Kalakaua (called the Merrie Monarch) who encouraged a Hawaiian cultural renaissance during his reign and included hula performances in his 1883 coronation celebration. He stated, "Hula is the language of the heart and therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people."

In 1971, the first year of competitive dancing, nine halau (wahine only) danced at the Hilo Civic Auditorium. In 1976, the kane (men's) division was introduced and by 1976, the event had grown so large it had to move to the Edith Kanaka'ole Tennis Stadium, where it is still held today. Each year sold-out performances are enjoyed by islanders and visitors from as far away as Japan, Italy and Germany. Since 1980, the three competition nights have also enjoyed live statewide television coverage.

During Merrie Monarch, each halau competes in kahiko (dance, chant or subject matter originating before 1893) and 'auana (modern) styles. The Miss Aloha Hula category is open to young women solo performers. The festival takes place each year during the week following Easter. The week of festival events includes live music performances, a parade, an arts and crafts fair and additional hula presentations.

See also: Hula: Cultural Renaissance

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