Hula Mai brings paradise to to Sonoma

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As summer vacations begin and our thoughts drift toward more tropical climes, Sonoma residents may need look no further than their own backyard for a little taste of paradise.

Hula, a large part of Hawaiian culture, is once again making its way through Sonoma.

Betty Ann Bruno, a retired KTVU news reporter, has been giving hula lessons in Sonoma for almost eight years and this weekend her Hula Mai dancers will once again shake things up on the Plaza with the group’s annual ho’ike, or Hawaiian show, on Saturday, June 18 from 5 to 7 p.m.

The show will start with guitarist Patrick Landeza, and be followed by the main act, the hula dancers.

Bruno says the seeds of Hula Mai were planted when she was in her 20s and undergoing an identity crisis. Bruno was of Hawaiian decent, but living in California and says she had largely been sheltered from her culture because her mom wanted her to “succeed in this country.”

But with a desire to discover her past, she ended up finding her future in hula dancing.

Decades later when she retired from her career in TV news, she hadn’t danced in over 30 years. With all of her hula notes lost in the 1991 Oakland fire, she didn’t know how to get back into dancing until she ran into an old dance friend who refreshed her memory.

“I just started to dance again – and a year or so later, my friend suggested I teach. Now here I am, eight years later, on a hula rocket ship,” says Bruno, now in her 80s.

Bruno holds classes Monday, Wednesday and Friday around town at En-er-gy, the Sonoma Woman’s Club and the Sonoma Community Center, respectively.

Bruno named her dance business Hula Mai, which means “come and dance.”

“It’s a really nice way to meet people in your community,” says dancer Debra Hoffman, a working single mother of a 12-year-old, who also dances at Hula Mai.

Staying true to its name, Saturday’s show will also feature a basic hula lesson, intended to get the audience to “come and dance,” and not just watch.

Bruno invites all her dance students to be in the show. With 30 dancers participating this year, Bruno hopes it will be the biggest and best one yet – as she hopes every year her shows grow bigger and better.

There is no age limit, as the age ranges from 10 to 88.

“It’s a bond between age groups,” says dancer Jill Powers, who’s daughter and two grandkids are also in the show. “It’s a bond that is special for us.”

That bond is evident, as the dancers are all very close and are, as Bruno describes, like an “ohana,” which means family.

“My favorite part is the spirit of everyone there,” Hoffman says. “There’s a sisterhood to it. We’re all watching out for each other.”

The only requirement for hula is a willingness to have fun.

“I’ve just always been interested in doing it [hula], so I did it,” Powers says. “I love the music. Hula makes me happy!”

Bruno says men are welcome to join, but has not had one in her lessons in a while.

Bruno thinks of hula as an “expression.” “It’s all about nature and the world around us,” Bruno says. “Because it’s an interpretive dance, every dance is unique. You’re telling the story of the lyrics.”

She imagines one can study it for a lifetime and never finishing.

“You will always keep learning... I will never know everything. I think that’s what appeals to everyone.”

For classes, visit

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