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Hula Heroine Helped Preserve The Hawaiian Islands' Traditional Dance

ARUN RATH, HOST:

We're spending some time today remembering some of the important people who died this year who may not be getting the recognition they deserve - among them, one of Hawaii's most beloved kumu hulas. That's a master teacher in the art of hula dancing. Her name was Aloha Dalire, and she passed away in August. Denise Guerra has this remembrance.

(SOUNDBITE OF HULA SONG)

ALOHA DALIRE: (Singing in foreign language).

DENISE GUERRA, BYLINE: That's Aloha Dalire, re-creating her winning performance at Hawaii's Merrie Monarch Festival in 1971. Since then, the festival has grown to be one of the preeminent hula contests in the world. Dalire continued her involvement with Merrie Monarch and hula long after her win and traveled frequently, opening hula schools, or halau, throughout Hawaii, Japan and California. Current festival executive director Luana Kawelu says Dalire's love for hula came from her passion to preserve tradition.

LUANA KAWELU: We would consider Aloha one of the old-timers. She would stick to tradition. You know, a lot of times, the new kumu want to bring more contemporary things into hula and make it fancy.

GUERRA: Many of Dalire's students, along with her three daughters, would go on to win subsequent Merrie Monarch competitions and become kumu hula themselves. In a 2012 interview, Dalire explains what it takes to make a winning hula.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)

DALIRE: Keep listening to the song over and over so that it can be something that motivates you. It kind of gives you that drive from within yourself. And from that, then we can get into our motions because our motions are really our emotions that we're bringing out.

GUERRA: Dalire died in her home in Kaneohe, Hawaii. She was 64. Denise Guerra, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.