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Aunty Sally…

Sally Moanikeala Wood Naluai, or Aunty Sally, as everyone called her, served as the Polynesian Cultural Center's kumu hula or hula master from its opening in October 1963 until she retired in 1980, after which she became a hula consultant until she passed away in January 2000.

Aunty Sally, who was a student of the famed kumu hula Lokalia Montgomery, taught several generations of young Polynesians both the kahiko or ancient and auana or modern styles of hula during her years at the Cultural Center. Ironically, though hula was anciently only performed by men, Aunty Sally's work with the young male hula dancers at the Polynesian Cultural Center became part of what is now recognized as a renaissance of Hawaiian culture — one in which both male and female dancers in Hawaii and around the world now participate. For example, there are thriving halau hula (hula schools) in Mexico and Japan.

Among Aunty Sally's early female students were two of her own nieces who would go on to play key roles in the Moanikeala Hula Festival: Victoria "Sunday Girl" Napuananionapalionakoolau Kekuaokalani Mariteragi and her younger sister, Ellen Gay Kekuaokalani Dela Rosa.

Aunty Sally asked Mariteragi, who was already a skilled dancer while still in high school, to join the brand-new Polynesian Cultural Center dance troupe in 1963. At Aunty Sally's urging, in 1981 Mariteragi formed her own halau hula or dance school, which started practicing in the afternoons at the Center in 1983, and immediately became a popular cultural exhibit.

Mariteragi is largely responsible for starting the Moanikeala Hula Festival to honor her aunt. Her school continues to practice at the Polynesian Cultural Center several afternoons each week, and many of her graduated students have gone on to become PCC dancers.

Sunday Girl's sister, Ellen Gay, who also danced at the PCC when she was a student at BYU-Hawaii, is today a senior Polynesian Cultural Center manager who oversees the production of the Moanaikeala Hula Festival and supervises the PCC promo team, who have performed all over the world.

Originally, the Moanikeala Hula Festival was a competition for children, with cash prizes. More recently it has evolved into what the Hawaiians call a ho'ike or exhibition of hula mastery that now also includes adult dancers.

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