You or somebody you know has probably been to Hawaii, attended a luau, and ended up dancing on stage, right?

The Hawaiian dancers (the good ones, not the tourists) are probably students in a hula halau, a dance school. Larry Suzuki, operations manager for Honolulu-based manufacturer and distributor ABC Corp., and his wife, Kay, spend at least 20 hours each month devoting themselves to their daughters’ passion — hula dancing.

Larry leaves the dancing to his girls, though. He refuses to get on the stage — he says he doesn’t have the courage.

“Hula is more than dance,” said Larry. “It has religious roots, cultural roots, tells stories, and carries on Hawaiian traditions from generation to generation. Our halau stresses family involvement, the history of the song, and the Hawaiian culture. The moms do a lot, and the dads provide special leis for the dance performances.”

The Suzuki girls (l-r), Karly, 18, and Julianne, 14, have been studying traditional Hawaiian hula since age 5. They’ve performed on most of the Hawaiian Islands, several California venues (including Disneyland) and just returned home from a competition in Japan.

They have danced for VIPs, including former first lady Barbara Bush and the premier of China. They’ve performed on stage at a Britney Spears concert and at the Mrs. America pageant.

According to Larry, the “Super Bowl of hula” is the Merrie Monarch Festival, held annually in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii the week after Easter. About 700 dancers and around 20 halaus from Hawaii and the mainland compete in the festival. The 5,000-seat stadium is usually sold out months in advance, and the event has live television coverage throughout the islands.

As an aside, the hula was developed by the Polynesians who settled the Hawaiian Islands centuries ago. When the Protestant missionaries arrived in Hawaii in the early 1800s, they introduced Christianity, and banned the hula, suggesting that it was “heathen.” David Kalakaua, king of Hawaii from 1874 to 1891, brought back the hula. King David was known as “the Merrie Monarch,” and the Festival was named for him.

For big competitions like the Merrie Monarch, the dads pick ferns and flowers for their daughters’ leis. “We fly to the Big Island and go up into the forest. We gather a particular kind of fern — the palapalai fern — for the leis. We also pick lehua flowers from the ohia tree found in the volcano fields,” Larry said.

The trips to the forest sound like a Hawaiian version of a hunting or fishing trip. Larry agreed, and said that while they have a good time, they have to be cautious. “We stick together because it’s easy to get lost. One time we were in a forest in the Big Island, and I thought I was lost. Out of respect for the land, we’re not supposed to yell or scream in the forest. We’re told to whistle.

“I whistled for help. Five guys’ heads popped up out of the forest right near me. They were there picking palapalai, but I didn’t see them because the forest was so thick,” he said.

When the dads come back with the flowers, the leis are made. It’s the tradition of the Suzuki girls’ halau that the fathers tie the leis for the dancers. “Right before the competition, we tie the leis on our daughters’ heads, wrists, and ankles. The leis need to be tied on well because if they fall off, the dancers lose points in the competition,” said Larry.

On one of their trips to the forest, Larry and the other dads from the halau had a camera crew with them, filming a documentary.

“A cameraman got lost, so we had to go as a group and look for him. We found him, but he lost his equipment. Everything looks the same up there and the guy just couldn’t remember where he put his stuff.”

The thought of going into a Hawaiian forest to pick ferns and flowers sounds intriguing, but don’t try it unless you’re with somebody like Larry. And be sure your whistle is in tune.

Gretchen Roufs, a 15-year janitorial supply industry veteran, owns Auxiliary Marketing Services of San Antonio. To suggest someone you think should be featured in “freetime,” contact her at (210) 601-457