Biography of Frances Claire Price (“Pi’ilani Kumukù’ai”)

 – Gypsy Kumu with a Traveling Halau Age: 74

Auntie Fran

Fran Price started dancing 42 years ago, in September 1970, at the age of 32, when her husband, Jack, encouraged her to get out of the house and do something special for herself – take a well-deserved reprieve from her daily responsibilities of housekeeping and child-rearing. She found a Hawaiian dance class through the Ferndale Adult Community Education, just two blocks from her home.

Fran found it challenging in the beginning, particularly the timing aspect. But with practice, persistence, and a burning desire, her talent blossomed as did her passion for Polynesian dance and culture. Moreover, it proved to be very therapeutic — not only physically, but emotionally and mentally, helping her heal after the loss of her eldest son a few years earlier.

After 10 years as a dedicated student, demonstrating patience and a special ability to help the senior members of the class, she was asked to take over as teacher. Resisting the notion at first but prodded by her supportive classmates, she agreed on the condition that she would teach strictly the beginners class and only until the instructor returned from her leave of absence. That was the start of her long, ongoing career in hula.

As time went on, her reputation grew, and she was invited to teach at several locations in the metropolitan Detroit area. Her halau gradually expanded to the six that are currently active.

For most of the year, “Auntie” Fran teaches six days a week. On Sundays, she holds a 4-hour practice for her professional troupe at her home or Troy Dance Studio. Monday evenings her halau moves to a nearby community center, where she teaches family, beginner, and intermediate classes. Tuesday mornings she spends with her seniors at the St. Patrick’s Senior Center in Detroit. Then it’s a 20-mile trek across town for family and adult classes in Livonia on Wednesday evenings. Finally, her halau relocates to a recreation center in Redford Township for class and practice with a second group of seniors/adults on Fridays. Her Keiki Hope Loa (toddler) classes, comprised of her grandchildren and the family members of her professional troupe, are monthly in the Fall/Winter and weekly in the Spring/Summer. This is an invitation-only class. She is a very busy little gypsy Kumu who puts many miles (about 15,000!) on her mini-van each year; between shows and “halau hopping”.

Her students range in age from 3 to 98, although her youngest was actually her granddaughter, Pamela, who donned a tiny grass skirt and danced in her first recital at the tender young age of 15 months. Watching Pam grow up and develop into a versatile and accomplished dancer has been one of one of Fran’s greatest joys.

Many students travel great distances to take part in her classes. For instance, one year a Hawaiian family (grandparents, adult children, and grandchildren) residing in Belleville, Michigan, learned of Auntie Fran’s excellent reputation and drove an hour each way to attend classes to prepare for a performance at a family reunion in Hawaii.

Auntie Fran always emphasizes her three main teaching goals: Exercise, Knowledge and FUN. Focusing on basics to build a solid dance foundation, she teaches hula steps to contemporary pop/rock songs showing how to create a line dance to any music. She teaches both English and Hawaiian names for steps/movements and points out the cultural similarities and differences among the Polynesian Islands: Hawaii, Samoa, New Zealand, and Tahiti. 2009 Flyer

Each student in the halaus automatically becomes a member of Auntie Fran’s ‘Ohana (family). She truly believes that each and every one is special and makes all feel so, starting with learning their name as soon as possible as well as bit of background in order to establish a friendly interpersonal relationship.

Every June, the halaus come together for a Polynesian dance recital which is open to the public. In her 29 years of teaching, Auntie Fran has never missed coordinating this annual event, having to perform twice with her arm in a cast from injuries sustained in artistic dance roller skating injuries – a long-time recreational activity she has since given up for the sake of self-preservation.

As for her own hula education, Fran has attended nearly every semi-annual “Dancers’ Dream Weekend” (hosted by Ka Hui Hula Polynesia – Cheryl Bell) seminar in Indianapolis, Indiana since 1988. Her teachers have included prominent members of the Polynesian dance community: Kaui Brandt, Bill Charmin, Charlene Shelford-Lum, Pulefano Galea`i, Sylvana Tahauri, Van Kaili Francisco, Chinky Mahoe, Karo Mariteragi, Olana Ai, Ellen Gay Delarosa, Cathy Teriipaia, Leina`ala Heine, Sonny Ching, Cathy Teriipaia, Keali`i Reichel, Leina ‘Ala Heine Kalama, Moon Kauakahi (of the Makaha Sons) and Joh’nette, the alaka’i for Uncle George Holokai who had just passed away a few days before the seminar in November 2006. But Keith Awai has left the biggest impression on her and has most influenced the style and technique she dances and teaches. Fran also feels especially blessed to have been mentored by good friend, Donna Hoye. With a strong background as a studio dance instructor and extraordinary talent in choreography, Donna personally helped Fran develop effective teaching skills. What a true demonstration of “Aloha Spirit”.

Already having many successful years of teaching behind her, Fran often felt overwhelmed while learning and mastering new dances, not to mention the complex Hawaiian language, terminology, and pronunciation. She frequently questioned new instruction, styles and techniques, wanting to be sure of their authenticity before sharing them at her halaus. During bedtime prayers during a seminar weekend in November of 1989, Fran asked God for special help in this area. Just before drifting off to sleep, she felt a presence and had an ethereal vision of a masculine Polynesian figure standing before her. The entity seemed to gently settle into her being. From then on, she felt a divine guidance energizing her Aloha Spirit and enabling her to understand and discern information about hula with more certainty and confidence. Never revealing his name, Fran’s Hawaiian “Spirit Guide” remained with her until August of 2002. While swimming with friends in Sandy Beach on Oahu during her second trip to Hawaii, she was perilously pulled by a strong undertow and nearly drowned. Just before being rescued, she felt her faithful Spirit Guide leave her body and return to his tropical home. This powerful spiritual experience has been a very special blessing in her life. She still possesses and relies upon the “knowing” he instilled in her.

Auntie Fran has amassed a treasure-trove of costumes, implements, jewelry, and accessories most of which she has made herself. From grass/Pa’u/Maori skirts and poi balls to flower leis/heis/belts/hairclips and elaborate Tahitian belts and helmets, she generously shares her hand-crafted costume pieces with all her students. She strives to make hula an affordable activity for everyone, never requiring her students to make a big financial investment. Storing everything in her modest-sized suburban home doesn’t leave much space for her husband who often jests about moving into the garage for more elbow room.

Polynesian Fantasy DancersAccented with colorful costumes and a variety of music, her shows are especially popular at nursing and retirement homes, where her student group “The Pi’ilani Wahines ‘Ohana” average 80 performances per year. Each year the show content changes to reflect the dances performed at the prior annual recital. This venue is very dear to her heart as she considers it her gift to God. If she can make at least one person smile, feel important and loved, she knows she has served Him well. It is also an opportunity to encourage the elderly to exercise through gentle hula movements.

Her professional group, “The Polynesian Fantasy Dancers”, which she cofounded with two friends, Kelly (Robinson) Jones and Donna (Strasser) Vincent, in 1978 has expanded to 12 members. Every so often, an audience member, curious about her accent, will ask which Hawaiian island she is from. She is a “native” of New Orleans, Louisiana.

She and her student and professional groups also dance at churches, private homes, and country clubs – anywhere Hawaiian entertainment is wanted. Many area schools have asked her to teach assemblies of children about Polynesian culture and dance.The kids eagerly participate in the basic hula lessons. Inside of one short year, Fran does 80 to 90 performances, including many for charitable events — all of these are above and beyond her regular teaching/practice schedule.

It’s hard to believe that Fran thinks she is (or at least was) timid, shy and a bit insecure by nature. Until about eight years ago, a wig was an essential part of her costume. The long, dark locks seemed to transform her into a vivacious and extroverted Hawaiian entertainer. Encouraged by friends who truly admire her lovely natural silvery gray hair and bolstered by the mental and spiritual confidence developed over time and with experience, she gradually “weaned” herself off the wig. Today she is more effervescent and outgoing than ever and enjoys “being herself” in front of an audience—no longer needing the security blanket of false tresses.

3generations1Among her happiest hula memories are her “Three Generations” performances, dancing with her daughter, Jackie (“Ke Aloha” – Beloved), and granddaughter, Pam (“Ku’u Kamāli’i” – My Princess). At the tender young ages of 3 1/2 and 2 years, respectively, her granddaughters, Karsyn (“Ku’u Iho” – My Heart) and Skylar (“Ku’u Aloha” karsyn-and-sky1– My Love) seem to have been bitten by the hula “bug” and enjoy dancing with “Nana”. For several years, her son Russell served as Master of Ceremonies at many performances and grandson, Paul (“Ku’u Kika” – My Tiger), created and maintains her remarkable website. Fran hopes her grandson, Cole (“Ku’u Ali’i” – My Chief), will develop an interest as well.   On February 2, 2011 Fran became a great-grandmother and is filled with joy to watch her great-grandson Brody (“Ku’u Ipo” – My Sweatheart) dance and dance.  He loves to dance hula and hopefully it will continue as a young male fire dancer would be a great addition to her troupe. Hula is truly a Price family affair.

Auntie Fran’s largest audience was a crowd of about 6,000 people at “Senior Power Day” in Canada. She has also had the honor of meeting and performing for Don Ho when he visited the Soaring Eagle Casino in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.

Fran enjoys choreography, particularly novelty numbers such as: North to Alaska (country western), Waltz With Me Daughter of Mine (at her daughter Kathy’s wedding) and After The Lovin’ (to celebrate her daughter’s pregnancy), Darcy’s Lullaby (to honor her son-in-law, Earl and infant granddaughter Karsyn), Louis Armstrong’s A Kiss To Build A Dream On and Iz’s rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Her hula interpretation of The Lord’s Prayer reflects her deep faith and prevailing spiritual nature.

The friendships Fran has made over her years in hula are what she prizes most. Two special relationships include those with Schantel Taylor and Keikilani Hewlett-Brockley who Fran considers her “Hānai” (adopted Hawaiian daughters). Schantel’s husband, David “Kroon” also refers to Auntie Fran as “Mom” so she considers him her Hawaiian “son”. Fran became fast friends with each of them when they called her on the telephone after discovering her ad in the Yellow Pages. Schantel, a professional Hawaiian entertainer who has danced internationally, provided Fran with invaluable business advice and guidance. Keikilani recently invited Fran to join her on a solemn trip back to her native Hawaii for the burial of her mother at Kani ‘Ohe Old Hawaiian Cemetery. Fran became a grandmother figure for Keikilani’s young daughter Ahono (which means “strong foundation”), and was instrumental in teaching the child about her Hawaiian heritage, including the hula.

Polynesian dance has kept her body young and her mind sharp. She often recollects with amazement how, when at 62, she was able to ‘ami down to the ground and do duck walks — things she wouldn’t dare to attempt 30 years earlier!

In 2003, Hawaiian author Shari ‘Iolani Floyd Berinobis invited Auntie Fran to be part of a new publication, entitled “The Spirit of Hula”. In the coffee table book, halau from Hawai’i, the U.S. Mainland, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, and Mexico share photos and stories that celebrate the spirit of hula worldwide.  Fran’s is one of the 70 stories featured. She felt extremely honored to have been included in the project.

After a little coaxing, Fran entered the “Miss Lovely Hula Hands 2005” contest sponsored by Hawaiian-born Pop music singer/songwriter, Scott Katsura. Of over 300 international contestants in this international competition (excluding Hawaii), Fran was honored to have been chosen as one of the six semi-finalists based on her choreography and presentation of “Flower Lei”, one of the tracks on Scott’s then newly-released “Aloha Miles Away” CD.

On a whim, she asked Scott if he would be willing to come to Detroit from NYC where he has resided for the last 17 years, to emcee and sing in our big 25th annual Ferndale Hawaiian Dance Revue in 2006. He very graciously agreed. Scott made the show extra special and memorable that year with all the beautiful “Aloha Spirit” he shared. He returned for the 2007 and 2008 shows and hopes to do so every year as his tour schedule allows. In 2009, he arrived a week early so he could accompany Auntie to each halau, get to know the students more, and share his knowledge and wisdom about hula as it relates to Hawaiian culture and life in general. Scott is truly an amazing musical artist, performer and inspirational/motivational speaker. He has become a very close and dear friend and is considered a beloved member of our Detroit ‘Ohana. Now Auntie has another “adopted” Hawaiian son. He affectionately calls her “Mama Fran” and she is indeed a very proud “mom”, promoting his musical career whenever she can. Fran has choreographed beautiful hulas to several of his songs: Flower Lei, Where I Belong, Aloha Miles Away, Between the Laughter and the Tears, My Hawaii and dazzled the audience with Shakahula, a modern Tahitian number performed by the Polynesian Fantasy Dancers. Please visit Scott’s website www.scottkatsura.com to learn more about him.

Hula is as much a part of Fran’s life as breathing, eating, and sleeping. When she’s not teaching or practicing, she’s performing, or making costumes, or planning shows, or tending to business paperwork or talking to clients or students. It’s a seven-day-a-week commitment. With such a busy schedule plus managing the responsibilities of devoted housewife, mother, and grandmother, it’s not surprising that friends and family think she’s nothing short of “Wonder Woman”—“Paha’oha’o Wahine”!

Approaching the 43rd year of her career, Fran is now actively training the members of her professional troupe to carry on the tradition and perpetuate her passion for Polynesian dance and expression of the Aloha Spirit. Some are “Alaka’i” (teaching assistants; future instructors) and the others, Hope’s (helpers-websites, sewing, crafts, etc.) She is very appreciative for the dedication and support her “girls” (Wahines) give her, lightening the load as she continues the magical journey she started so long ago.

Auntie Fran’s love for Hula radiates through her body and from her soul as she dances. And her enduring Aloha Spirit is like a warm hug from a loving aunt—so endearing to her students and audiences.

Frances Claire Price’s Biography
Written with Aloha by: Diane M. Jett
Updated: October 2012