Martha Graham’s first male company member and the creator of the Hawkins technique

Hawkins in Early Floating, first performed in 1961

Erick Hawkins made modern dance history as the first male dancer accepted into Martha Graham’s company, but he also earned success as a choreographer and creator of the Hawkins technique. His movement was characterized by a free-flow aesthetic—one that required hidden strength—and informs many of the somatic disciplines we know today, like Body-Mind Centering technique.

A late-bloomer, Hawkins discovered dance in his early 20s after seeing a performance by German dancers Yvonne Georgi and Harald Kreutzberg. The summer after he graduated from Harvard University, he studied with Kreutzberg in Austria. Hawkins’ next stop was New York City, where he trained for four years at the newly founded School of American Ballet. While there, he danced with and choreographed for Lincoln Kirstein’s Ballet Caravan, the predecessor to New York City Ballet.

In 1936, Ballet Caravan performed at Bennington College, where the Martha Graham company was also in residence. Hawkins was immediately drawn to Graham’s intensity and uniquely American dance; two years later, she invited him into her company. Over the course of 12 years with Graham, Hawkins starred in many roles, often as her partner (Letter to the World, 1940; Appalachian Spring, 1944; Cave of the Heart, 1946; Night Journey, 1947), and the two married in 1948. They separated two years later.

Feeling stifled and yearning to explore his own work, Hawkins founded a school and company in 1951. His influences were as varied as Southwest Native American traditions, the poetry of Zen Buddhism and kinesiology. His commitment to new and live music for performances and collaborations with well-known composers and designers were noteworthy, though his works were initially dismissed by critics and never found success anywhere near that of Graham’s.

Hawkins continued to operate his school until his death in 1994. DT

 

Hawkins revered the human body and often adhered to the rule of “less is more” when it came to his costumes.

Fun Fact

In 1950, immediately following their separation, Hawkins sent Graham a typed, 27-page letter, attempting to explain his reasons for their split.

Vocabulary

Hawkins sought to convey a sensation of freedom in his movement. Hallmarks include:

  • Initiating movement from the pelvis, or center of gravity.
  • Use of over and under curves.
  • Swinging legs high in the hip sockets to activate lightness.
  • Employing the spine’s four curves—cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral. The Hawkins spine contracts and decontracts (versus Graham’s contraction and release).

The Work

  • Classic Kite Tails (1972) Capturing the floating, darting qualities of flying kites, this work emphasized flowy, carving movement with Hawkins’ tassel arms.
  • Greek Dreams, with Flute (1973) With nearly naked men and women wearing only sheer Grecian tunics, Hawkins contrasted male and female bodies in motion.
  • Agathlon (1979) Inspired by the rock formation of the same name in an Arizona Navajo reservation, Hawkins based Agathlon on asymmetry and imbalance versus balance.

Movement Primer

  • Tassels Hawkins loved to use the image of the limbs as tassels, as at the end of a curtain. It requires loosening, or “decontracting,” the muscles in the arms or legs, so that one’s limbs can respond naturally to any movement initiated from the pelvis.
  • Cobra hands Fingertips lead the rest of the arm and spine into a movement, like the head of a cobra.
  • Chalkline This term refers to an imaginary center line that separates the body into two sagittal, or right and left, planes. For example, when executing a développé devant, students are told to let their toes fall along their chalkline.

The Legacy Lives On

The company Erick Hawkins Dance, based in New York, is now directed by former Hawkins dancer Katherine Duke. The technique—considered by many to be the precursor to release technique and other somatics-informed techniques—is  taught in colleges throughout the U.S.

Resources 

Print:

“Erick Hawkins,” by Carrie Stern, Dance Teacher, September 2007

The Erick Hawkins Modern Dance Technique, by Renata Celichowska, Princeton Book Company, 2000

Martha Graham in Love and War: The Life in the Work, by Mark Franko, Oxford University Press, 2012

WEB:

Dance Heritage Coalition: “America’s Irreplaceable Dance Treasures”: danceheritage.org

 

Photo (top) courtesy of Dance Magazine archives; Michael Avedon, courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Jerome Capasso, courtesy of Man in Motion

Finding a male dance instructor who isn't booked solid can be a challenge, which is why a New York City dance educator was inspired to start a network of male dance professionals in 2012. Since then, he's tripled his roster of teachers and is actively hiring.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Courtesy of Shawl-Anderson Dance Center

For seven decades, Frank Shawl's bright and kind spirit touched thousands of dancers in the studio and in the audience.

After dancing professionally in New York City and with the May O'Donnell Dance Company, Shawl moved with Victor Anderson to the San Francisco Bay Area and founded Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in 1958. It is the longest running arts organization in Berkeley.

The two ran their own company for 15 years and Shawl-Anderson Dance Center became a home for dance for students and artists alike. It currently runs 120 classes and workshops every week for children and adults, plus artist residencies, rehearsal space and intimate performances. (If you have never visited, the Center is actually a large house converted into four studio spaces.)

Shawl taught modern classes at the studio until 1990, performed into his late 70s and took classes at the Center into his mid 80s.

As I simultaneously mourn and honor Frank—my dear friend, fellow dancer, mentor and boss—I reflect on a few lessons that I learned from him. These five ideas relate to our various roles in dance as students, performers, teachers and administrators.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Getty Images

Halloween is just a few weeks away, which means it's officially time to start prepping your fabulously spooky costumes! Skip the classic witch, unicorn and superhero outfits, and trade them in for some ghosts of dance legends past. Wear your costumes to class, and use them as a way to teach a dance history lesson, or ask your students to dress up as their favorite dancer from history, and perform a few eight counts of their most famous repertoire during class. Your students will absolutely love it, and you'll be able to get in some real educating despite the distraction of the holiday!

Check out some ideas we had for who might be a good fit. We can't wait to see who you all dress up as!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Photo by Sedge Leblang, courtesy of Dance Magazine Archives

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At 8, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle at with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

You've got the teaching talent, the years of experience, the space and the passion—now all you need are some students!

Here are six ideas for getting the word out about your fabulous, up-and-coming program! We simply can't wait to see all the talent you produce with it!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy of HSDC

This fall Hubbard Street Dance Chicago initiates an innovative choreographic-study project to pair local Chicago teens with company member Rena Butler, who in 2018 was named the Hubbard Street Choreographic Fellow. The Dance Lab Choreographic Fellowship is the vision of Kathryn Humphreys, director of HSDC's education, youth and community programs. "I am really excited to see young people realize possibilities, and realize what they are capable of," she says. "I think that high school is such an interesting, transformative time. They are right on the edge of figuring themselves out."

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: What policies do you put in place to encourage parents of competition dancers to pay their bills in a timely manner?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Kim Black

For some children, the first day of dance is a magic time filled with make-believe, music, smiles and movement. For others, all the excitement can be a bit intimidating, resulting in tears and hesitation. This is perfectly natural, and after 32 years of experience, I've got a pretty good system for getting those timid tiny dancers to open up. It usually takes a few classes before some students are completely comfortable. But before you know it, those hesitant students will begin enjoying the magic of creative movement and dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Photo via @igor.pastor on Instagram

Listen up, dance teachers! October 7 is National Frappe Day (the drink), but as dance enthusiasts, we obviously like to celebrate a little differently. We've compiled four fun frappé combinations on Instagram for your perusal!

You're welcome! Now, you can thank us by sharing some of your own frappé favs on social media with the hashtag #nationalfrappeday.

We can't wait to see what you come up with!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Original photos: Getty Images

We've been dying to hear more about "On Pointe," a docuseries following students at the School of American Ballet, since we first got wind of the project this spring. Now—finally!—we know where this can't-miss show is going to live: It was just announced that Disney+, the new streaming service set to launch November 12, has ordered the series.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Tony Nguyen, courtesy of Jill Randall

Recently I got to reflect on my 22-year-old self and the first modern technique classes I subbed for at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, California. (Thank you to Dana Lawton for giving me the chance and opportunity to dive in.)

Today I wanted to share 10 ideas to consider as you embark upon subbing and teaching modern technique classes for the first time. These ideas can be helpful with adult classes and youth classes alike.

As I like to say, "Teaching takes teaching." I mean, teaching takes practice, trial and error and more practice. I myself am in my 23rd year of teaching now and am still learning and growing each and every class.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox