How hula helped with my shyness

I’ve heard before that being shy is selfish. Now I understand why.

Most people don’t know. I’m naturally shy.

When I’m in a crowd full of people, it takes me a while to warm up. I’d rather sit by myself or talk to 1 person for the evening. I can feel my insides crawling when I am with others too long (that includes my husband and kids).

I’ve often been misunderstood. Some people might think I’m not social or friendly and family might think I don’t care about them. They don’t realize I’m that way with everyone. So I find it strange that I decided to join a hālau (aka. hula dance group) filled with women.

© 2012 Mark Chun

© 2012 Mark Chun

The first time I was in hālau I was so uncomfortable. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t know the difference between a kaholo and an uwehe let alone how to dance them. I was a white girl in a Hawaiian world and despite the fact I was shy and nervous, a part of my spirit sang when I danced.

And so I returned the following week. I had to get over watching the women with their friends laughing and comfortable, me standing by myself. I had to get past hugging and kissing everyone hello and good-bye when it felt akward. I had to get past the fact that I spoke zero Hawaiian. I had to get past my thoughts… Who do I think I am, a white girl dancing hula with women who have been dancing for generations?

And so I finally understood. Being shy is selfish. It is about keeping me to myself. I had to stop thinking about ME. I had to get over myself. Once I shifted my attention from me to others, I felt the connection I wanted.

Hula is a dance of unity and connection. It requires opening up and feeling others. It is about moving my hand the same as my sister, trusting those on my left and right, of letting go of my ego that thinks I know “right” and instead embracing the collective. Maybe my tribal Viking nature emerged after hundreds or thousands of years… the desire to be in community.

The thing is, even though I like to be alone, I don’t like to feel lonely. Do you understand?

Last weekend I walked in the Relay for Life. My shy side almost stopped me. My head was telling me the reasons why I shouldn’t do it…

  • I’m not going to know many people and am going to feel uncomfortable.
  • The people I DO know, I don’t know well… I’ll feel left out.
  • I have to get up at 2am to drive down and make the final leg of the walk (It goes from 6p-6a)… I’d like to sleep.

These reasons weren’t new to me. I’ve talked myself out of a lot of parties, events and celebrations. I am a turtle at heart and love to be a bit of a recluse, retreating to my shell. But I wanted to go. My desire outweighed my fear.

© 2012 Mark Chun

Melanie Nohea Amaral Kailiwai © 2012 Mark Chun

My mother died of cancer when I was 13, so the idea that I could do something, have some sense of control when cancer made things totally out of control was appealing to me. Our relay group walked to remember my hula sister Nohea. She passed young, like my mother, and left me again feeling like life wasn’t “fair” and didn’t make sense. I decided this time I wasn’t going to hide. I was going to go.

I got there in the middle of the night and was handed off the relay “baton” so to speak. I planned on jogging (train for my half marathon and help… 2 birds with 1 stone kinda thing) but found out quickly that jogging wasn’t allowed. Speed walking only. So I walked miles and miles and as I looped around the track I thought of my mom and Nohea, how they helped shift, shape and inspire me.

I realized during those miles, Nohea probably had no idea how she inspired me. It wasn’t through some deep conversation or spending a lot of time together. It was how she showed up. It was how she came prepared, how she seemed peaceful in the midst of changes, how she didn’t get involved in drama… All qualities that I admire, qualities I want to have as a hula dancer, and as a woman. And I realized, that is what it’s about.

It’s about showing up.

hula sisters 2So when I’m feeling shy or uncomfortable, when I feel like I won’t fit in or like my presence isn’t going to make a difference, when I feel like what I have to offer doesn’t matter, I’ll remember it is about showing up.

Showing up means I don’t let that mean voice in my head win. It means recognizing I matter. I am good enough just as I am. I am important and have value whether I feel comfortable or not, whether I feel connected or not.


Who inspires you to show up? If you consider yourself shy, how do you “get out there.” Leave a comment below.

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