Pilialoha Christiansen was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii. One of six children, Christiansen had to rise at 4:00am to help her parents prepare meals for the family. Christiansen had a difficult life and says that the one bright light that has sustained her and given her hope through all her years is her training in Kumu Hula.
Christiansen left Hawaii in 1988 to seek out work and a new life in California. The one thing she did not leave behind is her cultural heritage. Within a year of moving to California, she began teaching Kumu Hula. She’s been teaching the dance ever since.
Christiansen teaches with boundless energy. Not only does she hold down a full-time job on the military base in Port Hueneme, but she also teaches Kumu Hula at her Halau in Oxnard, California, three nights a week. One weekend a month, Christiansen flies to Grass Valley in Northern, California to teach there as well.
Christiansen is deeply loved and revered in her community for her instructing as well as her dance skills. With tears in her eyes, Christiansen’s student, Anita Coly says that Christiansen is a wise goddess who brought her the family and sisterhood that she never had. Coly started classes with Christiansen after seeing her perform five years ago. She said that she and her husband were both moved to tears by the performance. She also regrets that she didn’t meet Christiansen thirty years earlier, because she has made such a profound, positive impact on her life.
Christiansen can seem tough when she’s teaching, but it’s only because the subject is so important to her. She says the students need to learn the discipline to dance well. She also feels that it is critical to preserve her Hawaiian heritage and cultural roots. Christiansen insists that all of her students learn not only Kumu Hula, but also the Hawaiian language and culture, including how to make their own costumes. To Christiansen, Kumu Hula isn’t just a dance, it’s a way of life.
Christiansen’s philosophy is that you don’t have to be Hawaiian to dance Kumu Hula, but you do have to have an open heart. When asked how she gets her energy to work a full-time job, teach and perform, she says simply: “I love to dance, to create motion and to be able to lift someone’s spirit. To see people bringing Kumu Hula to life is truly rewarding to me. It’s the journey, the compassion and the dance of my soul.”