Four years ago, Maile Delgado tentatively opened a hula studio in Modesto, hoping she could attract students.
Today, she has an enrollment of 40 and is organizing a hula performance at the Gallo Center for the Arts.
Her Hawaiian dance and art school, Ha'awi, will present Hula Bash 2008 in the Foster Theater on May 31. The show also will feature guest performers from another Modesto hula school, Na 'Ohana 'o Ke 'Awawa, the Hawaiian bands Aloha Spirit and Na Makani and Tahitian drummers.
Audience members will be able to buy fresh flower leis and Hawaiian souvenirs in the lobby and learn how drums are made.
"You'll get the full experience of being in the islands at Gallo," Delgado said.
Born and raised in Mexico, Delgado has no relatives in the islands and learned about the culture as a child at an international dance school in Mexico City. She fell in love with the language, mythology and history.
She ended up winning numerous hula competitions in Mexico, California and Hawaii and studied under Bay Area hula master Mark Keali'i Ho'omalu, who composed two songs for the movie "Lilo & Stitch."
Her initial hula classes in Modesto were at the Juline School of Dance, but now she teaches out of her north Modesto home. She and her husband, Rick, have a large mirror and studio space in their garage. The couple have three young children who also dance.
Delgado accepts anybody to her school who shows interest in dance. Her students range in age from 2 to their 60s and represent a range of ethnicities, including Filipino, black, Portuguese and German.
Lorna Church, an adult dancer, said she was attracted to hula because of the meaning behind the dance.
"We tell a story," she said. "We feel it from the heart. We express it through our movements and hands."
One of the featured dances at the upcoming show will have a more personal bent. It is about fighting leukemia and will be performed by 5-year-old Naomi Purdy, who had the disease. Delgado met the girl two years ago when she was very sick and asked for hula lessons through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The school rallied around her and prayed for her recovery, which, Delgado said, helped the girl achieve the good health she has today.
Faith is a huge part of Delgado's life and gave her the confidence to even think she could open a hula school in the first place. She tries to pass that faith on to her students.
"Why do we dance?" she said. "At the end, we praise God."