Go Hawaiian

Sandy Jones, Redding Senior Citizen Hula Dance Instructor…

“Ma kau kau?” calls the teacher.


“Ae!” answers the class in unison.


Their chatter stops short, and all members of the intermediate hula dancing class form an opening ceremony circle and join hands. For the next two hours, 16 senior citizens dance hula to taped music, add percussion of their own with cultural implements turned instruments, and listen to learn the meanings in their steps, tilt of their hips, sweeps of their arms and reach of their hands.

Photos by Richard DuPertuis

Crowded into a small room adjoining the Redding Senior Center this Wednesday morning, they listen to learn the depths of hula from Sandy Jones, their kumu.


Afterward, Jones translates the Hawaiian chant intoned by her class, or halau, during that opening ceremony. “We’re saying, ‘Grant me the power to learn the meaning of the words and grant me the power to learn to do the hula,’” she says. “Grant me the power to learn to also know the hidden meaning of the dance and to be with a family.”

Jones credits much of her teachings to those of kumu Sandy Rodriguez, the former teacher of hula dancing at the senior center. The two women met when Jones joined Rodriguez’ halau to practice hula. After about four years of learning under Rodriguez, Jones’ kumu moved to the coast. Jones took over the class and has been teaching it ever since.

Rodriguez had no doubt her former student could handle the responsibility. “Sandy is so accomplished in what she’s doing,” she says. “She’s very welcoming to people. When they come in and want to learn, she takes the time to teach. And that’s what they call the aloha spirit.”

Although Rodriguez moved to San Luis Obispo County, the two women still keep close contact, with Rodriguez sending step sheets and other support. Recently she ordered t-shirts for her local halau, and shared enough for all Jones’ students in Redding. To symbolize the connection between the two locations, the design includes water and a rock to represent Morro Bay and, in a stylistic background, Mt. Shasta. Arching overhead hangs the name Nani Wale Na Kapuna.

Photos by Richard DuPertuis

Beautiful Seniors.

Both teachers regard this halau as one and the same. “And the reason it’s the same is because I’m the kumu hula,” says Rodriguez. “And I don’t abandon my halau.”
That’s what they call the aloha spirit.

Richard Youngblood, a four-year student in Redding, knows that spirit. “Yeah, I was 85 years old and they say that you should keep moving. And I know from my own experience dance is the highest form of movement. So I went there looking for movement,” he shares. “They are now my extended family. I want to say, Sandy, I am very grateful you came into my life.”

Classmate Merian Droesch enjoyed Hawaiian dancing lessons while on a cruise, and as soon as she returned home, she found the senior center halau. “I was in awe of Sandy because she was pushing 80 and she had a lot of energy and she was a really good instructor,” she says. “I started, of course, in the beginner class, and then I liked it so much I joined the intermediate class for more practice.”

She adds, “It’s a graceful dance, and it’s fun. And we’re all seniors, so it’s not like I’m with a bunch of kids.”

Teacher Jones shares this senior sentiment. “I do what I can because I love to dance, even if my leg or my ankle or my tendon hurts,” she says. “I take a couple ibuprofen and I get in there and I dance.”

Photos by Richard DuPertuis

Halfway through Wednesday morning’s two-hour class, the sound of senior hula instruction echoed softly through the room: Owie owie owie.

It hurts.

Unlike her Redding kumu, Jones was actually born in Hawaii. As a young girl, she thought hula looked pretty and she felt the urge to perform, but it wasn’t until her first year in high school that she built the confidence to hula dance seriously, after taking lessons from a studio down the street from her home.

Rodriguez says a big part of why she felt Jones has what it takes to be work kumu is because in those first years, Jones studied under a kumu who became a Hawaiian cultural icon. His name was George Na’ope, and the budding hula dancer stayed with his halau for the rest of high school. After graduation, she performed with his traveling troupe of hula dancers for another two years.

She would graduate from the University of Hawaii with a major in speech therapy, leading to a career that ended with her retirement in Billings, Mont. Along the way came marriage and raising two boys, and hula was left far behind. When she retired, she moved near Bella Vista where her sister lived and settled in to help with family. Finding time on her hands in her new home, she began pursuing dance for the first time in a long time, beginning with one new to her, line dancing.

Photos by Richard DuPertuis

She signed up for line dancing lessons at the Redding Senior Center. Five years later, she was asked to take over the class. She teaches line dancing there to this day. She has even formed her own traveling troupe of line dancers who perform with her every Friday at a different local senior care center from September through May as the River City Senior Line Dancers.

In her hula classes, Jones teaches percussion instruments like drumming the ipu, a gourd representing the carrying of life-sustaining water and slapping together pu’ili, bamboo sticks used for food prep. Thus stories told by dancing are punctuated by implements of the ancients.

Shes also passes along her kumus old-world values. “Aloha also has a meaning where you respect people and you respect their views,” she says. “And you also respect the islands, the state of Hawaii, and you treat people the way you would like to be treated.”

The way Jones connects her students with sacred traditions has not gone unnoticed by Her Redding kumu. “It’s important to know what that song is about, who wrote it and why it was written,” Rodriguez says. Especially kahiko. It is the very ancient hula in which history is passed down, because they didn’t have a written language.”

Interview finished, thanks given, the interviewer offers a parting “Aloha.”

The kumu replies, “I’ll talk to you again.”

Hui hou.

Redding Senior Center
2290 Benton Drive, Redding
(530) 246-3042
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 9am to 3pm; Friday, 9am to noon;
closed Saturday and Sunday

About Richard DuPertuis

Richard DuPertuis is a Redding grandfather who writes. His stories and photographs have appeared in newspapers, magazines and online. He strives for immortality not by literary recognition, but through diet and exercise. He can be reached at [email protected]

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