Biography of Kumu Hula Debbie Leionalani Ryder
The now over well known Kumu Hula Debbie Leionalani Ryder was born in Kaneohe Oahu, and since her childhood she started her instruction of the Hula under the direction of Kumu Hula Sally Woods Naluai for a short period. With this good start on, she continued her instruction under the direction of the Kumu Hula (at that time very recognized and before her passing on named as Loea of the Hula) Kaui Zuttermister, (also remembered the being niece of Sam Pua Ha'aheo) Noe Zuttermiester Lewis. Kumu Leinonalani was fortunate to be under their instruction from the age of 7 up to the age of 15. There Kumu made her foundation and basics on Hula. Soon she began instructor training under Proprietor Naniloa Hula Studio, Aunty Pauline Padiken in Kaneohe, Oahu. When she was 16, and advised by her now Hula brother and also recognized Kumu in Hilo, Ray Kahikilaulani Fonseca, she goes and ask to be a Hula student with the discipline of Kumu 'Pa George Lanakilakekiahiali'i Na'ope, with the perspective of boarding on her horizons. This fact was seen at first sight since at that early age she was already performing at a professional level at "Tavana's show" where the principal Tahitian director and choreographer was under the guidance of: Francis Te'ai. In 1973, I traveled also to Kyoto, Hiroshima, Osaka, Nagaya, Yokohama, Kyushu, and Tokyo, Japan. The instruction of the Kumu was enriched since Kumu George assigned her to be responsible of the teaching of different hula students and groups at the age of 18. Having also the opportunity of traveling as part of the professional group that Uncle George had at that time. Performing in Okinawa and Japan, receiving more learning experiences by teaching and performing at those foreign countries for six months. At the age of 21 she opens her first Hula Studio named Kula O Na Hula (hula school) She gathered a group that learned the big tradition of their native dances and folklore. Having this big opportunity of opening the doors in Kane'ohe Oahu. But then in 1981 she moved to the Big Island of Hawai'i. Once established on the Big Island, the opening of Halau Hula 'O Puna was a logic consequence to happen having an always hungry feeling of sharing the knowledge and making it through the time through new students now at this bright scenery of the east area on Big Island of Puna. Living here she got the recognition of her job by being invited to participate at "The Merrie Monarch Festival" when she was only 24 years old! Being by this fact the youngest Kumu with the youngest age Halau to be participating in this magnificent setting and hula event. After these successful happenings, also by working hard learning and teaching at the same time always under the wings of Uncle George (that by that time had already given her three upgrades or 'Uniki) she is finally receives the overall "Kumu Palapala" that recognizes her as an 'Uniki class and Kumu Hula by Uncle George. She also receives her given Hawaiian name, Kumu Hula "Leionalani." all of this, at the age of 25 years old. I have to mention that at that time after 40 years of teaching, Uncle George Naope was making this first 'Uniki class recognizing and giving Kumu Diploma to only 6 students, and the now Kumu Hula Leionalani Ryder was one of those six Uniki class of the Merrie Monarch founder and now also recognized as Living Treasure of Hawai'i. After living in Puna for several years Kumu Leionalani moves again but now to the area of Hilo and then further on to Kailua Kona (Halau Hula O Leionalani) where she continues to teach to this day. Since she graduated, she has emphasized to work not only at hula as a dance but also as the spiritual way to make the culture live through the dance honoring the Kupuna and Akua. Mae Lobenstain said once: "When you dance the body and the spirit are united through the dance, let the spirit flow the Hula"... and in Kumu Hula Debbie Leionalani this phrase comes alive when you see her dance. Kumu Hula Debbie Leionalani Ryder is an active teacher in Kailua Kona; she travels and teaches in Okinawa & Shige, Japan and Mexico besides workshops on the mainland training several students. She encourages them to play the Ukulele, Pa the ipu, chant, and live the culture in all senses... One big example is that she has brought groups to Hawaii competitions, defeating hula troupes of the islands with her Okinawa & Shige halau. One thing to mention of course is the tight relationship that she has with her sister-in-law. Musician, composer and songwriter Lei'ohu Ryder. Which within her kokua and collaboration are giving a new point of view to the hula but in a contemporary way respecting the roots and the tradition. Kumu Leinonalani assures: "If you are able to learn the Oli, chant, olelo, how to create and designing your own outfits, research on the different mele, how to play ukulele and Ipu, besides to be able to make big productions and why not, shows to help to preserve the hula in a traditional way, you are on your way to become a Kumu Hula even though you are not a native of the islands... If you work hard with seriousness and respect and it will come if you go for it..." We expect to have Kumu Hula Debbie Leionalani Ryder and her hula with us for many, many years.
Mahalo Nui Loa,
Arturo Kamana'o Valero
Kamani Ilikai (Mexico)