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Hawaii may be more than 2,000 miles and an ocean away from Sonoma, but on a recent Saturday afternoon the Aloha State was right within reach.

About 30 musicians strummed ukuleles and sang in unison as a dozen hula dancers performed their graceful moves, turning the hall at the Sonoma Valley Woman’s Club into an island paradise.

A monthly “kanikapila” jam session draws about 70 people to the historic Sonoma clubhouse, where Hawaiian dance, music and attire bring the warmth and romance of the islands even on the dreariest of days.

The kanikapila — the Hawaiian word meaning “getting together to make music” — is presented through Hula Mai, a Sonoma group offering hula lessons and performances.

Master ukulele player Del Medina of Marin County and his group lead the lively sessions, with novice and experienced musicians welcome to drop by with their ukuleles, guitars and even kazoos.

“Kanikapila just warms my heart,” said ukulele player Michele Shockey, 75. “It’s just fabulous. I love Hawaii but can’t always get there.”

She’s among the North Bay musicians who join the informal jam sessions. Music books with Hawaiian and pop songs are available, with Medina calling out titles and corresponding page numbers so even newcomers can sing and strum along.

It’s a gathering of “ohana,” the Hawaiian word for family, where all are embraced for a program of island hospitality. Medina guides the sessions, with participants welcome to suggest songs or get up and dance as they like.

No one is on stage; everyone gathers together in the spacious hall, the personable Medina and his musicians in a semicircle facing the crowd.

“Del is a character,” said Dorothy Lund, president of the woman’s club. “He’s really fun and keeps it going.”

Lund, in a colorful Hawaiian blouse, greets visitors who step into the stately building to enjoy the spirit of aloha.

“This music is just joyful,” she said. “It’s not just Hawaiian music. He plays a little bit of everyone.”

Medina welcomed guests, many in Hawaiian clothing, with a warm, “Aloha, everybody,” followed by “OK, here we go. ‘Country Roads.’ ”

He and fellow musicians performed the John Denver song, their ukuleles providing an upbeat version of the country classic.

“It’s infectious,” said Betty Ann Bruno, 85, who organizes the kanikapilas. “If you’re in a bad mood when you come in here, you lose it.”

Bruno established Hula Mai eight years ago, now a close-knit group of 55 dancers who encourage one another through dance and the challenges of life.

“There’s a wonderful sisterhood,” Bruno said. “They take care of each other. It is the most amazing thing.”

The kanikapilas grew from informal gatherings at her home a few years ago, becoming so popular she secured a venue large enough to accommodate dozens of musicians, hula dancers and others who long for the laid-back and joyful atmosphere of the Hawaiian islands.

Most Hula Mai dancers are senior citizens who, like Bruno, defy their age. In a long, floral-appliquéd Hawaiian-print dress, lei and flower in her hair, Bruno’s elegant hand gestures and graceful barefoot steps flow effortlessly to the music.

The oldest dancer, 89-year-old Liz Quinn, also moves with the beauty of a dancer in her prime.

“It’s what keeps the old body going,” she said, smiling broadly.

Quinn honeymooned in Hawaii in 1953, and later visits only deepened her love of the islands. The romance returns for her at each kanikapila.

“It’s just love and laughter,” Quinn said. “It’s so much fun. It goes down into your heart, somehow.”

The Hawaiian jam sessions welcome people of all ages, Bruno said, with one Hula Mai family including three generations. Jill Powers dances with her daughter Karyl Carter and Powers’ granddaughters (and Carter’s nieces), sisters Charlie and Ava Burk, 11 and 15, respectively.

Couples also perform together, like ukulele players Grant and Linda Bodwell, both in their early 70s. Linda Bodwell also dances with Hula Mai.

“You can’t hear the music and not want to move to it,” she said. “You just have to dance to it.”

The two-hour kanikapilas are a source of great pride and joy for Bruno, who was born in Hawaii. A longtime broadcast journalist who retired from KTVU in 1992, Bruno loves not only the dance and music that come together at the kanikapilas, but the sense of community and spirit of aloha that permeate the room.

She recalls an especially stormy night when an overflow crowd gathered for one of the first public kanikapilas. It was pouring and thundering outside, but musicians and hula dancers transported everyone to an imagined warm and welcoming place far from the winter storm.

“What it’s about is connecting to everything around you,” Bruno said. “It’s all about the heart.”

The next kanikapila is from 2 to 4 p.m. Feb. 25 at the Sonoma Valley Woman’s Club, 574 First St. E. Admission is free; a $5 donation is suggested. For more information, visit hulamai.org.

Contact Towns Correspondent Dianne Reber Hart at sonomatowns@gmail.com.

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