Culture flowers at Hawaiian Festival in Puyallup

As hips swayed and ukuleles played, fledgling hula dancer Fred Whang couldn’t suppress an “oops” expression.

Somewhere during a series of intricate hand movements, most of which convey the dance’s language of time and place, the 70-year-old attorney from Tacoma got lost in translation.

“I kind of blanked out there for a moment,” Whang said. “But it’s OK; they expect that from a guy.”

Whang is one of only two male members of the Halau Hula O Lono dance troupe from Burien; the approximately 35 others are women. During the O Lono’s performance of “Le Nani,” which means beautiful lei, he was one of the few guys brave enough to put his hips in motion at Saturday’s Hawaiian Festival at Chief Leschi High School in Puyallup.

It didn’t used to be that way.

“Traditionally, hula used to be for men only,” Whang said. “Now women seemed to hold the spotlight.”

Nevertheless, hula is for everyone, Whang said, and although he’s been at it only two months, he feels welcome — and the occasional flub doesn’t wilt anyone’s lei.

“I do it for a lot of reasons — mental, physical and cultural,” Whang said.

Preserving and cherishing Hawaiian culture was a central theme at the Hawaiian Festival, sponsored by the Moku`Aina A Wakinekona Hawaiian Civic Club. The all-day event, which supports the group’s scholarship fundraiser, featured live Hawaiian and Polynesian music and dance, arts and craft vendors, island-style food and more.

Even teenagers appreciate its influence. Seattle resident McKana Caro, 15, a native Hawaiian hula dancer, said, “You’ve got to spread aloha everywhere so the legacy of hula will go on.”