Teacher brings the art of hula to Southeast Michigan

By Rachel Moulden for Digital First Media

biography
Frances Price has been performing Polynesian dance since her 30s. Now in her 70s, she teaches.  Courtesy of Frances Price

Oakland County resident Frances Price has brought the art of hula to the mainland through her Polynesian dance classes.

The Polynesian Dancers of Michigan halau (school) mission is to spread the spirit of aloha and share the passion for hula and Polynesian dance with all who are interested.

While born in New Orleans, La., Fran — known to all her students and in the local dance community as “Auntie Fran” — moved to Ferndale in the late 1960s. Price developed an interest in Polynesian dancing back in 1970.

“They were teaching a hula class across the street from my house and I fell in love with it,” Price says. “Ten years later the teacher quit and the students wanted me to teach the class so I agreed to do it for one year and then I decided to keep teaching.”

She started Polynesian Dancers of Michigan with only eight students; now she has about 75 students. September marks her 46th year of teaching hula classes.

Price teaches a variety of classes, six days a week, for people of all ages. The classes range from family, children, and adult beginner and advanced classes.

“I teach everything but Samoan (dance) in my classes and I mainly focus on Hawaiian dances,” Price says. She has three dance groups. Her Pi’ilani Wahines group performs in senior homes and daytime shows, while the Pi’ilani Wahines Ohana group performs night and weekend shows.

Her third group, the Polynesian Fantasy Dancers, is a professional troop specializing in the art of Hawaiian, New Zealand, Tahitian and Samoan dances. They perform at weddings, anniversary parties and corporate gatherings.

One of Price’s students, Farmington Hills resident Andrea Tobel, enjoys the classes thoroughly.

“I love the exercise and the ‘aloha spirit’ of my sisters (in class). Doing hula has helped me to not only to keep limber, but it also sharpens my mind.”

Hula dancing also can be challenging in many ways. Price says, Kahiko chants can be difficult, and usually Samoan dance is the hardest to learn because of its constant foot movement which is why it’s nicknamed, “running aerobics.”

“Hula hands are the hardest for beginners to learn, as well as timing the movements with the song,” Price says.

“It can take one year (at minimum) to become a good Hawaiian dancer because of all the work that goes into the feet and hand coordination. “It’s hard because the head has to know the lyrics, the body has to know the motion, and the hands have to tell the story. You have to memorize everything since you don’t know the Hawaiian language.”

The thing Price enjoys most about Polynesian dancing is how good it makes her feel.

“I may not feel good when I wake up in the morning, but when I go to class I feel fantastic,” she says. “Dancing brings joy in life and I love teaching.” She typically enjoys performing non-Hawaiian novelty numbers such as ragtime music.

Price hosts an annual extravaganza show every June, including professional dancers, students from all classes, and Price’s family group. Next year, show attendees can look forward to a “Hawaii comes to the Mainland”-themed show, featuring Hapa Haole songs, which have a mixture of Western and Hawaiian influence.

Price has classes in Ferndale, Redford and Livonia.

• Fall classes in Ferndale begin Sept. 19 (Monday evenings) and Sept. 20 (Tuesday evenings) at the Gerry Kulick Community Center on 1201 Livernois.

• Friday evening classes in Redford begin Sept. 25 at the Redford Senior Center on 12121 Hemingway.

• Wednesday morning classes begin Sept. 28 at Livonia Civic Park Senior Center, 15218 Farmington Road.

For more information about classes, booking events and more, visit polynesiandancers.us/.

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