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Polynesian dancer brings her culture to Bloomington through classes and show

Johnette Kamokunani Palumbo teaching her adult beginner's class a traditional Maori dance at her studio in Bloomington. Palumbo is in front with five dancers behind her.
Emily Bollinger
/
WGLT
Johnette Kamokunani Palumbo teaching her adult beginner's class a traditional Maori dance at her studio in Bloomington.

Kamokunani Hula Hālau has brought Polynesian dance and culture to Bloomington-Normal through classes and a recent showcase at The Station Saloon.

Johnette Kamokunani Palumbo of Bloomington is the founder of the hula hālau, or hula school. Palumbo has been hula dancing since she was 4 years old.

Palumbo was born and raised in Hawaii until age 6 when her family moved to Chicago. After getting married, she moved to Rockford with her husband.

While in Rockford, Palumbo said her husband found a steel guitar player in the newspaper looking for a hula dancer. “And so she had little gigs here and there, and I danced with her, and she encouraged me to look for more dancers,” said Palumbo.

After finding more dancers, Palumbo said she ventured off without the steel guitarist. “But I want to thank her for being my angel and bringing me back to my culture,” said Palumbo. “So then I started a hālau out in Rockford, and it’s the same thing that I'm doing [in Bloomington].”

Palumbo said her hālau in Bloomington has started and stopped due to raising her daughters. She started it again last October.

“I should be retiring now rather than starting up my old business,” said Palumbo, “but I'm enjoying it. Everybody enjoys it and I want to still teach a lot of people about my culture and learn. So that's what my shows are all about too. I teach the [Polynesian] culture in my shows.”

Palumbo said, “My show is a Polynesian show. Polynesian [is] a conglomeration of Maori which is New Zealand, Cook Island which is another island south of the island Hawaii, Hawaiian Islands, Tahitian which is West, [and] Samoa.”

Johnette Kamokunani Palumbo is in front of a mirror at her dance studio while her students are watching her.
Emily Bollinger
/
WGLT
Johnette Kamokunani Palumbo teaching her adult beginner's class at her studio in Bloomington.

“Even though there are different islands,” said Palumbo, “a lot of them are very similar, and definitely the family and the way their families are is the same as my culture. Family oriented is the most important in the Aloha family, the ‘loving of family.'"

Palumbo described her hālau as an “ohana”. “We become an ohana, which is, they become my family.”

Palumbo’s ohana at the Kamokunani Hula Hālau performed at a showcase at The Station Saloon on June 28. Many Polynesian dances were featured by people of different age groups and experience levels.

Guest of honor Palumbo’s mother danced in the showcase for a special four-generational dance with Palumbo’s daughter and granddaughter as well.

Palumbo’s Kamokunani Hula Hālau has classes for children, teens, adult beginners and advanced adults.

“I would like to reach out to those out there too that have no family and want one, that's what I'm offering,” said Palumbo.

Polynesian dancer brings her culture to Bloomington through classes and show

Emily Bollinger is a digital producer at WGLT, focused on photography, videography and other digital content.