Erick Hawkins

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

Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.


Find a formula that works for your studio

For Melanie Boniszewski, owner of Tonawanda Dance Arts in upstate New York, the answer to profitable summer programming lies in drop-in classes.

"We're in a cold-weather climate, so summer is actually really hard to attract people—everyone wants to be outside, and no one wants to commit to a full season," she says.

Tonawanda Dance Arts offers a children's program in which every class is à la carte: 30-minute, $15 drop-in classes are offered approximately two times a week in the evenings, over six weeks, for different age groups. And two years ago, she created her Stay Strong All Summer Long program for older students, which offers 12 classes throughout the summer and a four-day summer camp. Students don't know what type of class they're attending until they show up. "If you say you're going to do a hip-hop class, you could get 30 kids, but if you do ballet, it could be only 10," she says. "We tell them to bring all of their shoes and be ready for anything."

Start-up costs are minimal—just payroll and advertising (which she starts in April). For older age groups, Boniszewski focuses on bringing in her studio clientele, rather than marketing externally. In the 1- to 6-year-old age group, though, around 50 percent of summer students tend to be new ones—98 percent of whom she's been able to convert to year-round classes.

A group of elementary school aged- girls stands in around a dance studio. A teacher, a young black man, stands in front of the studio, talking to them

An East County Performing Arts Center summer class from several years ago. Photo courtesy ECPAC

East County Performing Arts Center owner Nina Koch knows that themed, weeklong camps are the way to go for younger dancers, as her Brentwood, California students are on a modified year-round academic school calendar, and parents are usually looking for short-term daycare solutions to fill their abbreviated summer break.

Koch keeps her weekly camps light on dance: "When we do our advertising for Frozen Friends camp, for example, it's: 'Come dance, tumble, play games, craft and have fun!'"

Though Koch treats her campers as studio-year enrollment leads, she acknowledges that these weeklong camps naturally function as a way for families who aren't ready for a long-term commitment to still participate in dance. "Those who aren't enrolled for the full season will be put into a sales nurture campaign," she says. "We do see a lot of campers come to subsequent camps, including our one-day camps that we hold once a month throughout our regular season."

Serve your serious dancers

One dilemma studio owners may face: what to do about your most serious dancers, who may be juggling outside intensives with any summer programming that you offer.

Consider making their participation flexible. For Boniszweski's summer program, competitive dancers must take six of the 12 classes offered over a six-week period, as well as the four-day summer camp, which takes place in mid-August. "This past summer, because of COVID, they paid for six but were able to take all 12 if they wanted," she says. "Lots of people took advantage of that."

For Koch, it didn't make sense to require her intensive dancers to participate in summer programming, partly because she earned more revenue catering to younger students and partly because her older students often made outside summer-training plans. "That's how you build a well-rounded dancer—you want them to go off and get experience from teachers you might not be able to bring in," she says.

Another option: Offering private lessons. Your more serious dancers can take advantage of flexible one-on-one training, and you can charge higher fees for individualized instruction. Consider including a financial incentive to get this kind of programming up and running. "Five years ago, we saw that some kids were asking for private lessons, so we created packages: If you bought five lessons, you'd get one for free—to get people in the door," says Boniszewksi. "After two years, once that program took off, we got rid of the discount. People will sign up for as many as 12 private lessons."

A large group of students stretch in a convention-style space with large windows. They follow a teacher at the front of the room in leaning over their right leg for a hamstring stretch

Koch's summer convention experience several years ago. Photo courtesy East County Performing Arts Center

Bring the (big) opportunities to your students

If you do decide to target older, more serious dancers for your summer programming, you may need to inject some dance glamour to compete with fancier outside intensives.

Bring dancers opportunities they wouldn't have as often during the school year. For Boniszewski, that means offering virtual master classes with big-name teachers, like Misha Gabriel and Briar Nolet. For Koch, it's bringing the full convention experience to her students—and opening it up to the community at large. In past years, she's rented her local community center for a weekend-long in-house convention and brought in professional ballet, jazz, musical theater and contemporary guest teachers.

In 2019, the convention was "nicely profitable" while still an affordable $180 per student, and attracted 120 dancers, a mix of her dancers and dancers from other studios. "It was less expensive than going to a big national convention, because parents didn't have to worry about lodging or travel," Koch says. "We wanted it to be financially attainable for families to experience something like this in our sleepy little town."

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.