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Malia's art, the hula, shares spirit, beauty and culture

Aunty Malia's Hula Troupe is known for award-winning entries — in Ashland's Fourth of July parade, participation in Ashland's Festival — of Lights, and performances at the Craterian, as well as other engagements — in the community, from weddings to church services.

Recently, Malia Nelson and her dancers were invited to — represent Oregon in "The Spirit of Hula: Photos and Stories from Around — the World" by Shari 'Iolani Floyd Berinobis. Published in Hawaii by Bess — Press, the book is available at Barnes and Noble.

Raised in Honolulu, Malia first learned hula from her — father's sisters (her father is half-Hawaiian), then in public school, — and later in a Kona hula halau during visits with her grandmother on the — Big Island.

While seven of her 82 students are performers, most join — for fun and exercise, says Malia, adding, "They also learn how to be graceful — and beautiful. They walk away with the aloha spirit. And the troupe becomes — like ohana, family, to them. We encourage each other."

Malia enjoys dancing in Ashland, a town she calls "beautiful — and very welcoming," unlike places where some audience members have wanted — more of a kitschy, lounge show.

"I tell them, 'We are not lap dancers.' Hula is how the — Hawaiians have always expressed themselves. The Hawaiians are dying out — — the hula is how they passed their stories down from generation to generation. — When I came here there was nothing like that. It kind of broke my heart, — but now, my dancers are sharing hula all over the world."

Malia moved to Ashland with her husband and children — about 15 years ago. After devoting 18 years to home schooling her sons, — she opened her halau about five years ago.

Malia's studio is in her home overlooking the Oregon Shakespeare — Festival, yet visiting Malia is like visiting a friend in Hawaii.

First, there's her Hawaiian greeting, a hug instead of — a handshake. She's dressed in a tropical blue and green skirt, a flower — tucked behind her ear.

The music of Bill Keale and just a hint of plumeria wafts — through the room where everything is Hawaiian or Polynesian - from the — tapa cloth that adorns one wall, to a large photograph of Duke Kahanamoku, — Hawaii's champion surfer and first Olympic medalist (and an acquaintance — of her grandmother, also an Olympic swimmer).

A pair of surfboards leans against another wall, seashells — rest on an adjacent shelf. There's the feel of hardwood floors and soft — rugs under bare feet, and the picture window view of the Ashland hills — that invites nature into the home as the hula invites nature into the — heart.

In her costume room, Malia picks up a pau skirt (the cloth — skirt that the missionaries made hula dancers wear over their ti leaf — skirts) with hand-painted tapa designs, one of 30 she created. Feathers — for a Tahitian dance are laid out on another shelf next to Malia's sewing — machine.

In her dance room, ipo (calabash drums) rest in front — of a studio mirror. Another beautiful view of the outdoors is enjoyed — here by Malia's dance students, ages 12 to 72.

The hula instructor welcomes all students, regardless — of faith, ethnicity - or the possession of two left feet.

Gracefulness, notes Malia, is not a requirement, but rather — a result of dancing hula. Malia seems to enjoy being part of this transformation — as much as she enjoys dancing, and through hula, sharing aloha.

"Hula for me is spiritual," Malia says once again. "The — Lord uses me to love other women through dance. Some walk away crying — because it is so beautiful and they can be part of this beauty."

For information, call 890-7767 or see the Web site www.maliahula.com