102-year-old hula teacher gets drive-thru hula party
Despite the quarantine, hula teacher Christinia Pualani Lee, known for her “Aloha spirited” classes, got a Hawaiian-style 102nd birthday party with socially distanced hula dancers and drive-by-birthday wishes.
Hula teacher Christinia Pualani Lee was about to turn 102 and her students wanted to throw a party despite the quarantine, a party befitting a beloved instructor who was born the year of the 1918 pandemic and who spent the last several decades teaching Hawaiian dance at the Carlsbad Senior Center.
On a sunny Wednesday afternoon under a deep blue sky, a handful of barefoot hula dancers with swirling floral skirts and orange flowers in their hair performed “Ka Uluwehi ‘O Ke Kai” on the sidewalk in front of their teacher’s Encinitas home. Standing in her doorway, Lee watched with a smile.
A car parade of well wishers drove by Lee’s house with large colorful birthday cards taped on their car doors. Neighbors wearing masks gathered on the street at a distance.
“That was the best birthday party ever,” Lee said. People were in tears.
Lee almost didn’t make it to her 100th birthday party a few years ago. The Encinitas great-grandmother had broken her hip a few weeks earlier. But she made it and did the hula from her wheelchair, which she no longer needs.
“I really think I’m stronger than a year ago,” Lee said.
For nearly 25 years up until she retired at the end of last year, “the hula lady” has led Hawaiian dance classes several times a week at the Carlsbad Senior Center and taught hundreds of seniors. But her classes went beyond dance. There was camaraderie and a positive spirit. When someone in the class got sick, fellow students called, prayed, brought meals and sent cards. They called it the “Aloha spirit.”
“She has a positive attitude no matter what is going on around her, nor what circumstances or health issues she may be facing herself,” said Laurie Reed, who has been taking Lee’s classes for 17 years and has been teaching under her guidance for the past 12 years. “She always tried to instill this ‘thinking positive’ attitude in her hula students as well.”
“Several years ago, I was battling stage 4 cancer and facing some very difficult challenges,” Reed said. “Christinia never failed to let me know that she prayed for me daily and always encouraged me to ‘have only positive thoughts’ that I would be healed. I know she did these same things for many of her students.”
Lee volunteered to teach the class about six months after her husband died of cancer in the mid-1990s when she was in her late 70s. It helped her get through and she wanted to help others get through tough times.
“I’ve been told that when you’re positive, you’re creating a positive energy and I think that’s true,” Lee said.
Since retiring from teaching hula, Lee has focused more on hobbies such as playing Words With Friends on her iPad, doing crocheting and crossword puzzles and painting. She painted a banner hanging up on a lamppost at 470 S. Coast Highway as part of the Encinitas Arts Alive Banner Exhibit. The painting shows a man and woman about to kiss and printed on the top, bottom and side are the words, “Love,” “Joy” and “Harmony.”
“I think her overall positive attitude and her dedication to her spiritual practices help her maintain her sense of well-being,” said her daughter Madalaine Charnow.
Lee said she misses getting out because of the pandemic, but she always has so much to do. “I have so many things to do I am always behind.”
Included in her daily routine are exercises. “I know which muscles to work on,” she said. “After all I was a PE teacher.”
Lee has a bachelor’s degree in physical education and dance from UCLA, where she taught modern dance in the early 1940s. She took her first formal hula lessons during a visit to Hawaii when she was in her 30s. When she saw the women doing the hula in traditional Hawaiian style, it was so beautiful, she said it made her cry.
For Lee, the dance has always been more than physical — it is spiritual. “It has to come from the heart,” Lee said. She always wanted to teach “the real Hula hulau, the folk dance of Hawaii.” She encouraged her students to put their body and soul into it and show what the words of the songs mean by moving arms, hips, head and eyes.
She is known to some as kumu Christinia Pualani Maluhiamaikeakua Lee. Maluhiamaikeakua means blessings from God.
“Every day when I get up I say, “It’s going to be a beautiful day and something wonderful will happen,” Lee said.
“I try to pass on grace — there is so much of it in my life.”
Christinia Lee’s secrets to a happy life:
1. LOVE. Spread the alchemy of love in all directions. Smile.
2. BE POSITIVE. Creates healing energy. When negative, count your blessings, give thanks and get over it.
3. BALANCE WORK, RECREATION, WITH THE SPIRITUAL.
4. BE NON-JUDGING.
5. BE FORGIVING.
6. BE CREATIVE. With color, write something, draw, sing, plant something.
7. MOVE. Yoga, exercise, dance, free movement.
8. TEND TO YOUR HEALTH. Eat and drink wisely.
9. SERVE OTHERS.
10. CHANGE THE I, I, I TO YOU, YOU, YOU.
— Linda McIntosh is a writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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