I was happy to celebrate my grandmother’s 98th birthday this week. What an accomplishment- 98 years on this earth. I know everyone thinks my grandmother is amazing but I have to say: mine really is. Up until fairly recently, my grandmother had been a professional Hawaiian dance teacher in Cheviot Hills. She taught for about 40 years at Rancho Park before becoming an artist-in-residence in a community room space in the Westside Pavillion. She is not Hawaiian but became fascinated with the culture after visiting the islands with my grandfather right after they got married nearly 80 years ago. She learned the traditional dances from native Hawaiians, some of whom moved to Los Angeles, and after mastering them herself, she went on to teach interested students week after week. There would be competitions and retreats and recitals and my grandmother would always be the center of attention.
One of her last ‘classes’ happened at Castle Heights Elementary School. Every year, to mark the kindergarteners’ ‘graduation’ there is a luau. The year my eldest son Mason completed kindergarten, my grandmother (a spritely 92 at the time) led all the children, parents and teachers through an authentic Hawaiian dance lesson. You could hear a pin drop- that’s how transfixed these children and relatives were at learning a true Hawaiian dance from a (non) Hawaiian master.
My grandmother performed at my wedding and at countless Lee family gatherings throughout the years. Even though a broken hip prevents her from doing too much dancing these days, my grandmother is the living reminder that age is just a number. Still as sharp as a tack and a true lover of having a good time, she left the family birthday party, grabbed my cousin and together they set off to take a road trip to continue the celebration in Las Vegas. Talk about ringing in her 99th year in style!
I know my Tutu’s former students still recall with fondness how much it meant to them to learn from not just such a skilled teacher, but from a true icon of Rancho Park. I’m proud to say this remarkable human being is my grandmother. Happy birthday, Tutu!