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Mainstream Hula dancing may appear to promote sensuality through hip movement and short dresses, but for Cheryl Seawright the Hawaiian dance takes on a whole different meaning.
Born and raised on the Island of Oahu, Hawaii, Seawright in 1964 and at 19 years of age moved to California to attend the San Jose Bible College and become a minister. She married husband Jim 25 years ago and together they organize outreach work through Mountain View’s church, under the leadership of pastor . The couple makes goody bags of basic supplies and quilts for the homeless and visit schools, convalescent homes and women’s prisons to perform Hawaiian dances and talk about their religion.
However, it’s a miracle Seawright can even dance at all.
"Every time I dance, God reminds me I am able to dance," Seawright said. "I'm not a cripple."
In 1966, the 22-year-old Seawright drove on Interstate 880 with her 18-month old firstborn daughter, Margie, when she suddenly lost control of her car. She approached a curve and crashed into an off-ramp sign at 75 mph. The sign read "Dixon Landing Road," she remembered.
Margie hit the windshield, cracking her skull and severely damaging her brain. When paramedics arrived, they pronounced Margie dead on arrival. Cheryl had sustained intense head trauma and broke her spine in four places.
However, Margie survived and two weeks later, doctors said, according to Seawright that, if she did live, she would be not much more than a vegetable; barely functional.
Today, Seawright said, Margie is perfectly healthy, teaches at a charter school and is raising three children. Seawright, however, remained in a hospital bed for months and had her leg in a cast for a year. As a result of the accident, one of her legs was shorter than the other, and her back was very rigid and inflexible.
The miracle happened during a prayer that a group led to help her with the pain in the leg. According to Seawright, her short leg lengthened. Now, with her leg healed, Cheryl felt a calling from God to dance again, and so she practiced hard every day. She struggled, but she eventually danced again.
Now, Seawright wants to share her gift with others, to make a difference in their lives.
Hundreds of years ago, Hula originated as a way for men, and men only, to worship their gods and as a way to express how life was created. However, when missionaries came to the Hawaiian Islands in the early 1800s they frowned upon the dance and the practice went underground for approximately 50 years. King David Kalakaua, nicknamed the merry monarch, eventually reestablished the dance as part of the Hawaiian culture during his rule from 1874 through 1891, and from that moment on women were allowed to participate. Hula is now such an important part of Hawaii’s culture that it’s a mandatory class for school-age children, much like English, math and science are here in the U.S.
The members of Cheryl's Hula club, which meets on Mondays and Saturdays, travel with the Seawrights to the outreach events and appreciate the spiritual aspect of worship hula.
Angela Ching, 37, credits the Hula with connecting her more with her children, who are part Hawaiian, and she is particularly fond of the familial bond the dance members share.
"I received sisterhood, family, wisdom and healing," Ching said. "This goes farther than just a class I show up to."
Lan Sherlock, 56, met Cheryl eight years ago when she took a typing and accounting class, and decided to try Cheryl's dance class just for fun.
"Once I learned it, I got involved and loved it," Sherlock said. "Practice is a lot of work."
Sherlock especially loves feeding the homeless during the Hawaii trip, which she has attended six times and describes as "exhausting but exhilarating."
"God put it in my heart to dance, not for a man but for myself," Corina Gomez, 35, said.
"The connection we have with God, how we edify him through worship Hula," she said. "With hula, you are dancing with your 'aloha', which means love."