But Hawkains wondered if the experience could be brought to people outside of the Black church. “There is a certain level of liberation and freedom that we all as human beings are reaching toward,” he says. “I wanted to know if this could be a universal experience.” To answer that question, he brought the ring shout into the dance studio, “working with Black bodies and non-Black bodies,” to conduct embodied research.
“The site for embodied research is the body itself,” he explains. “Dancers take elements, like from the ring shout, and instead of talking or writing about them, we embody them, we experience them.”
He worked with a team of dancers and percussionists, most students at UNCG. Each rehearsal would begin with elements from the ring shout, and the artists developed the movements from there.
The more they practiced and perfected the choreography, the more the dancers were changed. “What I saw, what we experienced was a freedom,” Hawkains says of his multi-gender and multi-racial troupe. For some it was a religious experience, for others a spiritual one. “It was the kind of freedom that comes from opening your body and mind and spirit.”
In seven months, the team of artists had created “By Fire.” The name is inspired by a biblical verse in Acts: “And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…” During the performance, Hawkains and his team dance through infusions of white and red smoke.
Hawkains’ work was supported by a competitive grant from UNCG’s Atlantic World Research Network and a scholarship from UNCG’s Kristina Larson Dance Fund.
His thesis chair was Professor Duane Cyrus. After graduating from the NC School of the Arts, Hawkains danced with Cyrus’ Theatre of Movement company, and it was Cyrus who suggested he apply to UNCG.
“When I think about this journey I’ve been on, I realize everything that happened was ordained,” Hawkains says. “I’m just glad I allowed myself to move and sway and get to the place I was meant to be.”
Now, with his UNCG MFA in hand, he is fired up to join the faculty of Kennesaw State University. There he will continue merging dance and film and helping more people discover the beauty in dance.
“I feel like I’ve just gotten started.”