Kumu hula John Renken Kaha’iali’i Topolinski


I will never forget my instructors and just how much they provided me although I was kind of a hothead. They subjugated my hardheadedness and put things right into the point of view.” We were the lucky generation. Kumu hula John Renken Kaha’iali’i Topolinski comes from a lineage of royal dancers. It wasn’t until he finished College though and returned to O’ahu that he started to study hula with Auntie Mā’iki Aiu Lake. He still bears in mind the strenuous training he went through as part of her initial ‘uniki in 1973. He holds those lessons close to his heart. His expertise and wisdom come from Mary Kawena Pukui, Persistence Namaka Bacon, Pele Pukui Suganuma, Henry Pa as well as Sally Wood Naluai. Topolinski continues to teach hula in Waipahu and share his expert cultural and historical mastery at Ka Pā Hula Hawai’i. Today, the retired Mililani Senior high school Hawaiian History educator functions part-time at Waipahu and Honowai grade schools. He is additionally recognized for his conventional Hawaiian feather handiwork.

Hawaiian Feather work as done in days of old.

Hawaiian Featherwork as done in days of old.

Keeping The Kaona Alive

Only the one who composes the mele and the one the mele is written for knows the kaona. People think they know what the kaona is. Someone would occasionally see my motions and ask, why do you do your motions that way?’ They believe it’s all the same. That everyone should be doing the same thing. Today they use the motions that go with the words, not the underlying meaning. To me some hula today is not hula, it’s an invention of someone’s creativity that they want to bring to the audience. Many of those movements have nothing to do with hula. They’ve taken styles from the Western globe, and mixed it in our hula and thinks it’s ok.

Training Was Demanding

Auntie Mā’iki was the very first kumu who allowed us to make our own instruments. Training was strenuous, however, we enjoyed it.  I worked with Auntie Mary Kawena Pukui until she passed, and also her daughters Auntie Pat Namaka Bacon and also Pele Pukui Suganuma. I was so lucky.  I was never charged for lessons. All they asked of me was that I memorize everything. Each week we’d repeat over and over again until it was pa’a. They provided me a great structure and sent me to the other individuals. You know why? Because they were confident in who they were and other kumu could offer students their knowledge. Keeping it real.

Halau Ka Pa Hula Hawai'i Kumu hula Kaha'i Topolinski

Halau Ka Pa Hula Hawai’i
Kumu hula Kaha’i Topolinski

“I could tell an excellent hula dancer from a dancer whose just going through the motions. An excellent dancer entices the audience in her story.”The costuming, it’s much like Vegas. Costuming to Hawaiians wasn’t the most important thing. It was the motions to the dance.

Kumu hula John Renken Kaha‘iali‘i Topolinski and Halau Ka Pa Hula Hawaii