Born in Trinidad, Colorado on April 23, 1909, he majored in Greek civilization at Harvard University, graduating in 1930. A performance by the German dancers Harald Kreutzberg and Yvonne Georgi so impressed him that he went to Austria to study dance with the former. Later, he studied at the School of American Ballet. Soon he was dancing with George Balanchine's American Ballet. In 1937, he choreographed his first dance, Show Piece, which was performed by Ballet Caravan.
The next year, Hawkins was the first man to dance with the company of the famous modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham. The following year, he officially joined her troupe, dancing male lead in a number of her works, including Appalachian Spring in 1944. The two were married in 1948. He left her troupe in 1951 to found his own, and they divorced in 1954.
After leaving the Graham Company, Hawkins' work developed in a unique and different direction. Hawkins moved towards an aesthetic vision detached from realistic psychology, plot, social or political agenda, or simple musical analogue. Important influences were the dances of the American Indians, Japanese aesthetics, Zen thinking, as well as the Greek classics. In some ways, he took dance in a similar direction that “abstract” painters were taking art, though he disliked the word “abstract.” This was coupled with a redefinition of dance technique according to newly understood principles of kinesiology, creating a bridge to later somatic studies. Hawkins famous statement was “The body is a clear place.”
Hawkins championed contemporary composers, and insisted on performing to live music. The Erick Hawkins Dance Company toured with the Hawkins Theatre Orchestra, an ensemble of 7 or more instrumentalists plus conductor. In addition to Lucia Dlugoszewski, his collaborators included composers Virgil Thompson, Alan Hohvaness, Lou Harrison, Henry Cowell, Dorrance Stalvey, Toru Takemitsu; visual artists Isamu Noguchi, Ralph Dorazio, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Motherwell.
- "Frederick Hawkins". Britannica Book of the Year, 1995. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Library Edition. 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-23.
- Doris Hering (1997). "Erik Hawkins Dance Company, Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse, February 18-23, 1997". Dance Magazine (Aug).
- Joseph H. Mazo (1995). "Erick Hawkins - dancer and choreographer - Obituary". Dance Magazine (Feb).
- The White House - Office of the Press Secretary
- Erick Hawkins, "The Body is A Clear Place and Other Statements on Dance" (Princeton Book Company/ Dance Horizons, Princeton, NJ, 1992)