Mandi Scott is lovingly known as Kumu Mandi at Na Maka O Puuwai Aloha dance studio in Waipio.

Scott started teaching hula when she was 18 and a freshman at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Her first students were four women with down syndrome.

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“They have to deal with so much in their lives, that I think if I can give them a place that they can feel that they’re part of a family and feel that they’re included,” said Scott.

That first experience profoundly impacted Scott, who would eventually open this popular dance studio for keiki and kupuna while also embracing and empowering students with
special needs.

“And so it’s really great because when we’re practicing or they’re dancing and we’re performing together, everyone cheers for them, you know, and it really builds them up,” said Scott.

“It’s not all about being perfect in hula. Or being perfect,” said Na Maka hula student Christy Gomes. “It’s about enjoying hula and loving it. She teaches the kids to challenge themselves. To be a better person, in the studio, in life.”

Scott’s dance studio is a family affair where her daughters and mother take classes together. And where this mother of two is not only passing on her passion for hula, she’s handing down her passion for community service to future generations.

Through her non-profit, the Na Maka Foundation, Scott rewards her graduating seniors who are going on to college or trade schools with $500 scholarships.

“But in order for them to qualify for a scholarship, they must complete 80 hours of community service,” said Scott. “Just so that they understand the importance of giving back and helping others.”

And as always, Scott is leading by example.

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“When it was during the pandemic time. There were a lot of us that had a lot of hardship,” said Na Maka hula student Lee Nakadomari. “And she got teams together basically, to contribute, to help those that were in need. She has like this heart of gold.”