Hula teacher returns: Fargo native visits from Hawaiian home
Franklin M. Palani Olson returned to Fargo this month to celebrate his mother's 80th birthday, but that's not his only reason to celebrate. He also is celebrating the 20 year anniversary of Ka Pa Hula Olapa - his Hawaiian school of traditional Hu...
Franklin M. Palani Olson returned to Fargo this month to celebrate his mother's 80th birthday, but that's not his only reason to celebrate.
He also is celebrating the 20 year anniversary of Ka Pa Hula Olapa - his Hawaiian school of traditional Hula dancing.
Olson grew up in Fargo, but has spent the last 30 years living, learning, and teaching in Hawaii.
"I love to teach. I was born to teach, I think," Olson said. "I get real excited when I see how excited someone else is about learning something new. It's a real rush."
Olson's school teaches traditional Hula dancing, placing emphasis on culture, language, and history. Hula is more than "learning how to move your hands and feet to a pretty song," he said.
Traditional Hula connects virtually everything about the culture. History and legends were passed down through the aural and visual aspect of the chants and dances, Olson said.
Olson is known as a Kumu Hula (teacher). He has been teaching for 20 years.
He sees a big difference between the type of Hula he teaches and the more modern version that many other Kumu Hulas teach.
Many schools focus on re-inventing Hula so that it is faster, more upbeat, and more appealing to mass audiences, Olson said, adding that some of the spirituality of the dance is lost the further one strays from tradition.
"It's very, very important to maintain tradition. You have to have a foundation upon which to build," he said.
Unlike many Hula schools, Olson's doesn't compete in Hula pageants or contests. Contemporary hula caters to people who don't understand the language by using extravagant costumes, music and choreography, which makes it hard for traditional hula schools to compete, he said.
He also thinks competitions reduce the amount of time a group has for perpetuating the culture.
"All you're doing is rehearsing and fundraising," he said.
Before becoming a teacher, Olson went to Hawaii in 1974 to continue his studies. He met a lot of resistance. One Kumu Hula refused to take Olson as a student because he wasn't Hawaiian.
Many people were prejudiced against Caucasians teaching hula, but Olson was no stranger to it, he said. His interest in dance and theater began when he was a child in the '50s.
"Kids can be very cruel in what they say and do," he said, "but you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start again."
Olson stood by that motto and was taken in by Master Kumu Hula John Topolinski. Soon he was given a warm welcome and the name Palani (Hawaiian for Frank) when other Kumu Hulas of the time realized his dedication to the dance.
After 10 years studying in Hawaii, Olson attained the title of Kumu Hula, and opened his school the next year.
As a teacher, he continues to study under Master Kumu Hula George Holokai. These studies not only enrich the classes he teaches but also will allow him to one day call himself a Master.
Despite the considerable distance between Fargo and Hawaii, Olson always keeps a state reminder nearby.
The front and back of his 2004 Nissan Altima sport Hawaii tags personalized with one word: Dakota.
"It's wonderful to come home," he said. "I've always loved Fargo."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Cynthia Hernandez at (701) 241-5541