HILO - Although there weren't any Merrie Monarch judges from Maui, there was a Valley Isle presence on the judging panel this year - and she's a real Maui rose.
Leianaikaroselaniomaui "Leiana" Woodside, 82, served her second year as one of seven judges at the world's most prestigious hula competition. The Waimanalo, Oahu, kumu hula was born and raised in Wailuku and is the mother of Kahului kumu hula Hokulani Holt.
The 47th annual Merrie Monarch Festival ended in the early-morning hours today, after wrapping up the group competition Saturday night.
From a family of hula masters, Woodside is the 13th of 15 children of Henry Long Sr. and kumu hula Ida Ka'aihue Kai'anui Long, of Paukukalo. She attended Wailuku Elementary School and Baldwin High School before graduating from McKinley High School in Honolulu.
Two of her sisters also became kumu hula - Kahili Cummings, 92, of Maui, and the late Mae Loebenstein. In addition to Holt, another daughter, Ulalia Woodside, is also a kumu hula, along with grandson Lono Padilla.
In an interview during a break from the festivities in Hilo, Leiana Woodside recalled her experience living next door to and dancing for Oahu hula legend Lena Guerrero.
"Everybody knows the patio," Woodside recalled of Guerrero's rehearsal venue. Woodside said she and Loebenstein also entertained with Guerrero and her Waikiki Hula Girls at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
Woodside called her second turn as a Merrie Monarch judge this weekend "exciting (and) anxious," waiting to see each group perform.
She noted that hula has gone from an ohana-based activity, where relatives shared their knowledge with cousins and extended family, to multiethnic groups.
"Every halau is a mix of different kinds of people, and they all do very well," she said.
Hula practitioners have become polished performers, she said.
"It's nice development for dancers," she said. "They pay more attention to the whole self. They become used to the exposure. It's a nice personality development."
While the viewing audience may focus on the dances, Woodside noted that chant is an important way of perpetuating Hawaiian culture.
"Chant provides a nice cultural connection for Hawaiian students and for all hula dancers. Even if a person doesn't speak Hawaiian, they still have a connection with the language, and it becomes natural," said Woodside, who formerly served more than two decades as curator at Queen Emma Summer Palace in Nuuanu, Oahu.
Setting aside the fact that her daughter, Hokulani Holt, had uniki'd (graduated) the three Maui kumu hula presenting at this year's Merrie Monarch - Keali'i Reichel of Halau Ke'alaokamaile, and
sisters Napua Makua and Kahulu Maluo-Huber of Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka - Woodside acknowledged the Valley Isle troupes Saturday morning, on the eve of the contest finale.
"They're wonderful. I think they did a very good job," she said with a twinkle in her eye and a ready laugh.
Holt said she was moved by the legacy of her grandmother and mother, as she watched the performances of others she has mentored.
"They're doing great," Holt said of Maui's representatives to Merrie Monarch. "I'm really, really happy.
"They're competition-ready. They're doing their island proud."
The feeling "wells up inside of you because you see the continuation of hula in them."
* Kekoa Enomoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.