Teri Underhill's hula dance heart
IPR’s Cece Mitchell talks with Teri Underhill, a 21-year-old singer-songwriter from Norwalk who infuses her Hawaiian heritage into her unique sound.
In June of 2021, Teri Underhill released her first album, Salt ‘N Citrus, which features the ukelele, an instrument Teri has played since age 16. Her Hawaiian culture and hula practice played a big role in the making of the album.
“For me, my music and my ethnicity is my whole life. My music is my diary. I can't make up a song that's not true, that hasn't happened to me with somebody around me,” Underhill said. “So bringing in my hula and sometimes Hawaiian words and ukelele and things like that can come in naturally. It's something that I've been adding more and more to my music. The more I learn about my Hawaiian culture and learn about the history, my genealogy, the more it just feels natural for me to just put it in there because like I said, my music is my diary. It's my day-to-day feelings and stories and how it feels so they kind of go hand in hand, really.”
“I started performing hula when I was 19. I met a woman named Ilima Young. She is a teacher at DMACC. I met her through a mutual friend, and she's a Hawaiian as well. And every Sunday she has hula, and it’s free, about an hour and a half to two hours every Sunday. She has a group called Aloha Wind.
“I was very lucky to have this mutual friend and met another Hawaiian because before that, my whole 19 years of life, and the whole feel 22 years my mom had been here, neither of us had had never met another Polynesian in Iowa. All that time, it was insane. And it felt really amazing to meet another Hawaiian. That's kind of how it all started.” Underhill said.
“[Hula] is a lot of things really. For me, it’s very spiritual. Back when, way back when, hula was used to imitate nature. So it was used to, kind of like, copy how the waves move and how the wind moves the trees. It was to talk about nature and with that came the storytelling. Hawaiians are big on storytelling; I don't know a single Hawaiian that can't talk story to you. Well, except me, that’s why I write my stories.
“When I dance hula, it feels right, like I'm supposed to be doing it. Hula talks about all kinds of things with our motions. We talk about love, we talk about the gods and goddesses, we talk about family. You could talk about anything really with hula, but it started off with talking about nature.”
Turning her life stories into songs seems like second nature to Teri, and now that her debut album is out, it's exciting to see where she might take her musical career next. You can follow that career by visiting her website, teriunderhill.com, or by following her on Facebook.