Kealoha Abasial, 6, fretted about her tube top as she wiggled through a hula dance.
She gave it a quick tug in between hand gestures. She'd peek in the mirror, behind her grandmother, making sure it was in place.
Her sister, Kealani Abasial, 4, wasn't worried about a thing. She looked in the mirror, too, and smiled at her reflection.
Last Monday, Kealoha and Kealani were two of the five participants in the inaugural class at Vernie's Hula Hut at 1200 Starkey Road, Suite 210, Largo.
The new studio, offering hula and Tahitian dance for all ages, was five decades in the making.
"Opening this up with the family, in particular for my granddaughters, is a dream come true,'' said owner Vernie Abasial, 57.
Vernie grew up in Kaneohe, Hawaii, on the windward side of Oahu. At age 3, she began taking hula from Kaui Zuttermeister, a celebrated "kumu hula'' or hula master.
To make hula skirts for her recitals, Vernie would gather ti leaves from wild plants near her home.
Because her father was friends with legendary singer Don Ho, he would take her and her sister to dance at Honey's, a club owned by Ho's family. As a teenager, she taught at Kaui Zuttermeister's studio.
Fifty-four years later, Vernie, who works in administration at the law firm of McFarland and Gould, and her husband, Richard Abasial, a former athletic director for Lakeside Christian School, are expecting their seventh grandchild any day.
"We moved to Florida in 1978, to give our children things we could not have given them in Hawaii,'' said Vernie, who also served as Lakeside Christian's cheerleading coach for 15 years.
Vernie also hopes her efforts will help preserve traditional hula.
"I realized that doing this now, teaching hula, is a good way to have regimented time with my grandchildren to show them authentic hula,'' she said. "I finally realized if I don't do something like this, it won't get done,'' she said.
She plans on incorporating lessons learned in childhood into her classes.
''Once I had children, I stopped dancing," Vernie said. "But since I began my lessons so young, hula has stayed a part of me."
The Hula Hut is inside Just Tumblin' and Top Dog Cheer Gym, businesses operated by Vernie and Richard's adult children and their spouses, Rick and Terri Abasial, and Jill and Wes Martin. Vernie's sister, Carol Morency, helps manage the front desk.
Renovating the space, a former observation deck, was a family project. It included installing a new floor, air conditioning, studio-length mirrors, thatched walls and palm trees.
"We love working together as a family, and I'm so happy for my mom,'' said Jill Martin, 28. "I believe we stay close in part because of the Hawaiian philosophy. It's all about Ohauna. It's all about family.''
Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163.