“We’re going to share a simple Hula with you,” started Kumu Kani’ahe Le, affectionately known as Auntie Char.

The Hula students obediently lined up into two rows – most children up front, adults behind them – in a grassy, sunny area of the Napa Valley Expo on Saturday. This was the ninth annual Napa Valley Aloha Festival, and these girls, many in floral dresses and with flowers in their hair, were prepared to learn something new.

“This is going to be a fun dance,” Char said. “We’re going to start with some steps.”

Char explained how in Hula, dancers tell the story of the song with their hands. The song she was teaching, “Ulupalakua,” was about a cowboy riding his horse up a mountain in Maui, Char said. She taught the girls to put their arms toward the sky for “mountain,” out flat for “land,” and together in front of them for “horsey.” The song also talks about fragrant flowers, she said, as she had her students mime putting on lei and pass their hands across their noses as if they could smell the scent of the flowers.

“If you want, you can move your hips a little bit,” she said, causing some laughter among the adults. Char told the children, or keiki, that their fingers should stay together because each finger is part of a family and “family do not get left behind.”

The students followed her instruction closely, trying to stay in pace with each other and Auntie Char, as the song, or mele, played in the background.

After practicing the dance in parts, then a few times all at once, the students had it down and the workshop was over. Upon request, the keiki ran up to Auntie Char for a group hug.

“I really love working with kids,” Char said. A teacher has to show them what they know as well as teach them how to be humble and that everything comes from the heart, she said.

“It was really good,” said Julie Crawford whose daughter, 4-year-old Callie, was decked out in a pink, plastic grass skirt, a pink floral tube top, lei and a boa. Callie picked out the outfit herself, Crawford said, and even dressed herself. The family recently returned from a trip to Hawaii, where Callie already started to learn to hula.

Two other students — Kayley Chin, 7, and Alyssa Ng, 6 — didn’t have any experience doing the Hula before the workshop, but both said afterward that they liked it.

“It’s cool,” Kayley said. She and Alyssa agreed that their favorite move was the mountain.

The Aloha Festival offered other workshops, including a ukulele class, praise Hula, hot Hula fitness, and Hawaiian language. Hula dances and performances went on throughout the day starting at 9:45 a.m. and ending at 6 p.m.

The festival, which continues Sunday, grows each year, said Jessica Luthi, festival coordinator. Luthi expected 15,000 people by the end of the day on Saturday – 5,000 more than last year. This is only the second year the Aloha Festival has been a two-day event, but it seemed to be going great, she said.

“Everybody seems to be enjoying themselves.”

Alec Van Alst said that his favorite things at the festival were the dancing and the food.

“I love it,” he said. “It’s a touch of home.”

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There were more than 30 foods scheduled to be at the event, several of which were serving Hawaiian food items like shaved ice, tropical fruit freezes, pork dishes, and Hawaiian donuts.

When asked what her favorite was, Malia Swanson said “You have to try it all.” Swanson frequents Hawaiian festivals in both Napa and San Francisco and, although Napa’s is smaller, she said “It’s nice.”

Gemma Alvior, designer of Gemz Creationz, said that she has been a vendor at the festival – and in the same spot – for the last four years.

“This is my annual event.” Alvior is a designer who lives in Hawaii, but is from Fairfield. Coming back to the area for the Aloha Festival has allowed her to catch up with old friends and classmates, she said.

“I fly all the way from Maui,” she said.

Hosted by the Manaleo Hawaiian Cultural Foundation, the event continues on Sunday from 9:45 a.m. until 4 p.m. Admission is free.

For more information, visit http://www.manaleohcf.org/

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Public Safety Reporter

Maria Sestito is the Napa Valley Register public safety reporter. She covers breaking news as well as crime and courts. Maria came to the Napa Valley Register in 2015 after working at as a reporter and photographer at The Daily News in Jacksonville, NC. S