Hula From The Heart
Jayna Shaffer of Halau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leina‘ala Shone in the Miss Aloha Hula competition at Merrie Monarch. As her kumu hula Leina‘ala Pavao Jardin says: ‘You can teach a dancer to be physically skilled … but you can’t teach a dancer to have heart, and that’s what Jayna has.’
Jayna Shaffer dances hula with her heart and soul. As she tells a story with graceful movement of her hands and feet, you don’t just notice her skill, but you can sense that she genuinely loves what she’s doing.
Merrie Monarch Festival judges must have noticed this same quality, as Shaffer was awarded third runner up in the Miss Aloha Hula Competition earlier this month.
“You can teach a dancer to by physically skilled in hula with time, but you can’t teach a dancer to have heart, and that’s what Jayna has,” says her kumu hula Leina‘ala Pavao Jardin. “What’s really nice is that combination of skill and heart makes a beautiful hula dancer and a beautiful person.”
A graduate of Waimea High School, Shaffer has been dancing since she joined Halau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leina‘ala at only 5 years old. She was in Jardin’s first keiki class, and remembers always watching her feet to make sure she was doing what kumu wanted her to do. Now, at 23, Jardin says Shaffer really doesn’t need much help anymore and is just one step below becoming a kumu (alaka‘i) herself.
“I feel blessed to know how she feels about me,” Shaffer says humbly about her kumu. “It makes me speechless.”
What made her performance so special this year was that her mele for her kahiko, He Ho‘ole‘a No Hokule‘a, was dedicated to the Hokule‘a and its crew.
“That in itself is an honor,” she says.
The Kauai native has had a connection to Hokule‘a since 2013, when she performed an oli (chant) seeking permission to board while it was docked at Nawiliwili.
“It was such a little blessing in disguise,” she says. “No one knew that one day I was going to be honoring the Hokule‘a.”
Then her hula sister Hau‘oli Smith Gertler was selected by Hokule‘a as a crewmember, which is Shaffer’s second connection to the double-hulled voyaging canoe. She discovered a mele composed by Keao NeSmith, who gave it to her to perform, and she immersed herself in all things Hokule‘a preceding the competition so that she could do it proper justice.
“Because when we take on a mele or a song, we don’t just learn the motions and go perform it, we get into it,” explains Jardin.
The song is about the ki‘i (tikis) on the Hokule‘a, Kane and Kiha, whose love affair resembles a voyage. Her research and efforts did not stop here. Prior to her performance, Shaffer, with the help of her halau, sponsored a fundraiser for the Hokule‘a in commemoration of the people from Kauai who have taken part in the Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage.
“The fundraiser is a small token of our mahalo to them for what they do,” says Shaffer, an after-school program supervisor at Kawaikini Public Charter School.
She likely could credit her generous and caring spirit to her ohana.
“Her family is the ultimate hula family,” confirms Jardin.
Whenever Shaffer has something she needs to do, her parents, Walter and Patsy, are always there for her, no questions asked.
“This journey that she’s been on all these years is very much theirs as well,” says Jardin. “She has an amazing family.”
Her hula journey is nowhere near complete, and Shaffer will continue to hone her craft.
“Hula is not just a sanctuary, it’s sacred. It’s something hula dancers take very seriously and it’s basically their life,” says Shaffer, who achieved certification in Hawaiian studies from Kauai Community College. “To take away hula would be like if someone took your life away — you wouldn’t be able to manage. You wouldn’t be able to have consistency in your life.”