Hilo’s Huladynamic Kaui Brandt
A pencil sketch from the notebook of associate instructor Teitu Kameenui shows Kaui Brandt doing one of her Polynesian dances
“Hula entrepreneur instructor, troupe leader, featured dancer and vocalist, sometimes disc jockey, plus full-time wife and mother of two healthy children”—gives a fairly accurate thumbnail description of Hilo’s Kauihealani Mahikoa Brandt, better known as “Kaui.”
In partnership with her husband Jack, this vivacious hapa-Hawaiian has upended the Big Island’s hula business, punched and pulled much of it into a shape of her own design and presented malihini and kamaaina with a variety of Polynesian entertainment sparkling with color, excitement, speed and imagination
At 27, with some 14 years as student, amateur and professional performer, producer and instructor, Kaui stands near the top of her profession.
She hastens to point out that she has not reached her ultimate goal, but nevertheless, Kaui commands a position not usually enjoyed by so young a Kumu Hula (hula director).
In the nearly half-decade existence of Kaui Brandt’s Hale O Na Hula, her Hilo Studios, this five-foot two-inch dynamo has built a student registration of over 200 learners of Tahitian, Hawaiian, Maori and Samoan dancing, singing, drumming and music.
She has developed her own format, and now, with her husband, is creating a Polynesian craft and arts study center, Kaui has been battling for acceptance of other than strictly Hawaiian dancing as an important part of Hawaii Island’s cultural picture.
She also heads a regularly performing student troupe, the Kaui Brandt Dancers, ranging in age from 2 years to mature adults, and co-manages a long-time professional troupe called Brother Jack’s Hawaiians, after her Polynesian student-entertainer husband.
Kaui handles dance direction and choreography for both troupes, plus filling starring roles as specialty dancer, vocalist and musician.
Her varied interests have also taken her into radio, where she established herself as one of Hawaii Island’s well known air-wave personalities.
The Brandt style of Polynesian showmanship is in great demand in Orchid Isle hotels, night clubs, service installations and visitor recreation centers, with weekly performances scheduled at nearly half a dozen places.
Of one-half Hawaiian, Japanese and English extraction, Honolulu-born Kaui is conversant in Hawaiian and translates and interprets her own dances.
She has familiarized herself sufficiently with the Tahitian language and music to establish the Brandt studios as Hawaii Island’s foremost Tahitian authority. She also expresses herself musically in Samoan and Maori.
The most recent Brandt enterprise includes Hilo’s first Tahitian Club, created by Kaui, Jack and Tahitian star and associate instructor Teitu Kameenui.
The club began last May and in the fall executed a loudly successful Bastille Day celebration which covered the entire business area of Hilo.
Charter membership in the club started at 50 and is increasing.
the Brandts are currently building a study program dealing with all facets of Polynesian culture. Study matter is being prepared through cultural contacts in Papeete, Wellington, Tutuila and Suva, Fiji.
Along with all of her professional obligations, Kaui keeps a busy schedule as mother to the Brandt’s 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son, both of whom are budding showmen themselves.
With just a whisper of a suggestion, either one will tell a visitor that “My name is Kaala Iwalani Brandt, Fragrant Bird of Heaven,” or “Kahula Kauahealani Brandt, Call of Th’ Dancing Wainbow.”
Performing regularly since the age of 2, Kaala is an accomplished Hawaiian and Tahitian dancer, while Kahula follows in his father’s footsteps and clowns his way through various hapahaole hulas, carefully gauging his audience and throwing in an extra pratfall when he feels the laughs are not hearty enough.
But Polynesia-devotee Kaui’s ultimate goal is to build in Hilo a focal point for all Polynesian lore; to reestablish language, music, dance and related arts as an “end” rather than “a means to an end, as they seem to be for so many of our people today.”
An important part of the Brandt’s unofficial work, Kaui feels, is “selling on the spot” Hawaii’s charms, as uncommercially as possible, causing thousands of visitors each year to depart from Hilo vowing, “There are no friendlier people in the world.”
(Star-Bulletin, 1/10/1960, p. 89)