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“Hula” brings cheer and camaraderie among seniors in Toronto

For more than four decades, Renee Siao has shared the joy of “Hula,” a Hawaiian cultural dance, with the residents of Toronto. Her classes have become an opportunity for seniors of various nationalities and backgrounds to come together, socialize, and bond through this unique dance form.

Renee, originally from the Philippines, has made it her mission to not only teach Hula but also to promote better health among the elderly through this form of art. Over the years, thousands of people have been drawn to her classes, finding great enjoyment in them. At the recent annual Haru Matsuri festival, organized by the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto, Renee and her group of senior dancers showcased their Hula skills. Their performance was a standout moment of the festival, enchanting the audience with their fluid and elegant movements.

Known as the Hula Grandma, Renee’s classes have students like an 89-year-old Japanese senior and a Filipino grandma who once brought her kids to class. The seniors reflect on how Hula has improved their health and fostered camaraderie among senior citizens. Betty Lou Arai expresses her gratitude towards the centre, stating that the staff is kind and accommodating as they let her rest when she can no longer dance, and they take care of her by providing food.

Renee’s passion for Hula began in her childhood in the Philippines. After moving to Toronto in 1978, she recognized the need for Hula classes in the city as a group activity. She started a small class in her apartment which grew from six kids to thousands of students across all ages, some of whom have continued her legacy and have started their own Hula schools. Renee says Hula teaches discipline and teamwork and recommends it for everyone.

Siao’s 46-year journey of teaching Hula in Toronto has helped create a vibrant and inclusive space where people of all ages find joy, health, and a sense of belonging.