Local dancer Rook Hawkins looks to break down barriers

Hawkins ambitious dreams of leading a local dance revolution


In recent years, the Buffalo community has been on the brink of a revolution. Dancers from every corner of the city have begun to come together to try and reform the segregated, divisive community into one that is inclusive and supportive of all styles, cultures and ethnicities.

Jimmy Hawkins, or “Rook Hawkins” as he is commonly known in the dance world, is a 27-year-old dancer known in the Buffalo community for hosting dance events. He is trying to bring about a cultural and mental shift in the dance world.

“I have dreams of helping build a dance community the right way,” he said. “It’s not about the competition, but about helping everyone get better.”

Hawkins is a standout dancer who has performed everywhere from Las Vegas to New York City, but his dance career isn’t what’s motivating him to make a change. Serious performer Hawkins may be, it is his tumultuous life experiences that have helped shape and inspire him, and many dancers like him, to chase after their dreams a little bit faster.

When Hawkins was 22, he was in a relationship that went south. The woman left Hawkins and Buffalo, but, unbeknownst to Hawkins, she was pregnant.

Hawkins didn’t find out that he had a son until three years later – after three years of trying to keep in contact with the woman and fighting to find out whether or not her son was, in fact, his son too.

He was in the dark until about two years ago when he was in Brooklyn for a video shoot where he finally was able to meet up with his ex and meet his son.

He said it was a life-affirming moment.

“It was instantaneous – sparks flew,” he said. “I immediately saw him as part of me, something special.”

It’s Hawkins’ son, not his dance or even himself, that inspires him now.

“I dance to break down barriers,” he said. “But, I think the best moment that dance has ever given to me is my son. Watching him dance around the living room just like how I used to when I was young is the ultimate experience.”

Hawkins presented a TEDxYouth talk at SUNY Buffalo State in 2014 titled “Breaking Down Barriers,” where he talked about the power of dance in bringing a community together.

Hawkins grew up around dance his entire life. He said he comes from a family of dancers: his mother traveled and trained as a dancer in Africa, before moving around the United States as a dancer, eventually settling in Buffalo.

While his mother was the one who got him started on dance and provided the cultural roots, his sister was the one who helped shaped his style.

“My older sister would always play old ’90s music in the house, back when J. Lo was still on ‘In Living Color,’” he said. “I still have videos of me on VHS dancing to different ’90s music.”

Ever since those days spent dancing in the living room, Hawkins has not stopped dancing.

“Dance has always been in my life – it’s never going to leave,” he said. “It’s helped me reach things that aren’t just dance: I’ve been able to go places, done interviews, had conversations with famous people and travel around the country.”

Now, Hawkins is focused on reshaping the Buffalo community so that his son can have the same opportunities he has had.

“I want to create a new generation of dance to give younger dancers a format to be able to get involved and get noticed,” he said.

Jordan King, a 26-year-old dancer and instructor at the Sam Smith School of Dance, believes that the Buffalo dance community is full of potential and positivity, but sometimes is less united than it can be.

“[The Buffalo dance community] is small – sometimes unified and sometimes divided,” he said. “If a lot more people get involved from different schools, different clubs and different businesses we can make this community grow.”

Hawkins and King aren’t the only ones who are trying to connect the different parts of the Buffalo dance community.

James Levy, Jr. is a 24-year-old dancer and teacher at the Verve Dance Studio who has been a part of the Buffalo dance community for years. Levy actually had a chance to compete with Hawkins in a dance competition called the Battle at Buffalo, a local organization that hosts monthly dance competitions around the city.

Levy, who won the most recent competition, has been dancing all his life. He believes dancing is a way to communicate something special without the fear of being judged.

“Dance has taught me in so many ways to be confident in myself and to always know that there will never be anyone just like me,” he said. “Embracing my uniqueness though dance is also a way to connect with other artists that want to spread positive energy and inspiration.”

This collective positivity highlighted by Levy, Hawkins, King and so many others is what leads them to believe that Buffalo is truly a dance community on the rise.

“For a community that I believe has struggled collectively to move forward together with dancing, I think that dancers and other artists alike are finally starting to push each other in a positive direction,” Levy said.

As new dance studios begin to spring up around the city, the number of styles and cultures included in the community only increases. Regardless of style, gender or preference, the movement toward a dance community that is all-inclusive and brimming positivity has led to serious structural changes in Buffalo dance.

For Hawkins, he wants to teach his son, and all the dancers he meets, that no matter what, dancing will always be there for you.

“I want people to know even if you go through something or feel down, you can always keep grinding and create art,” he said. “Never worry about what other people think and know that you can always create.”

Brian Windschitl is the senior arts and can be reached brian.windschitl@ubspectrum.com.