Yugson Hawks: Conversations about judging are needed to strenghten our community

Since the emergence of organised competitions, conversations about judging have become an integral part of our culture. At the moment we have few movements that are trying to create new ways how we may not only simplify the process to the judges, dancers but also for the audience. There has been a new initiative called The Hawks Method created by Yugson Hawks. We have asked him a few questions, so you can have an insight into the process.

Please introduce yourself to those who may not know you.
My name is Massangila “Yugson” Lumengo. I am originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and I currently live in France. I started dancing in Belgium when I was 6, trained by the Magical Band, one of the first European dance groups to tour internationally. I arrived in France aged 9. I started hanging out and practicing with members of what would become the Wanted Posse. We officially founded the crew in 1993. After making a name for ourselves in the underground scene in Paris, we gained visibility internationally. In 2001, we were the first French group to win the Battle of the Year in Germany. I used to dance many styles, but after 2001, I decided to specialize in house dance and hip hop. I hold the record of having won the most Juste Debout competitions (6 in total, mostly in house dance). But I also won over 50 other competitions over the last 15 years. In 2007, I co-founded Serial Stepperz, by bringing together some of the best “upright” dancers of the Parisian region. We have been very active in battles, as competitors and judges, but also as teachers, locally and internationally.

What exactly is the Hawks Method?
The Hawks Method is an evaluation system for dancers which usually takes at least two full days. It consists of four, themed, tests:
– foundations
– technique
– musicality
– originality

Each theme is divided into five questions or prompts, evaluated on a scale from 1 to 5. The hypothetical “perfect dancer” obtains 100% at the evaluation (5x5x4). At each test, five teachers are seated in a circle, facing outwards. Five dancers dance in turn in front of each teacher. They have one minute to answer to the prompt before moving on to the next teacher. The five prompts, and the teachers who are in charge of evaluating each of them, are known before the test starts.

What makes the system different from others?
The idea of the Hawks Method is to keep the form of the freestyle, as in battle preselections. Putting the participants in this situation at each exercise enables teachers to determine how well the techniques are acquired. While each exercise is an encounter with a teacher, it is also and foremost and encounter with oneself. The Hawks Method is designed to help dancers identify where they are at, what their strengths and their weaknesses are. It is by participating in the evaluation several times that they can truly measure their range of progression. The dancers benefit from personalised mentoring, get precise answers to burning questions, and are encouraged to take an active role in their own development. At the end of the evaluation, they receive a graphic representation of their strengths and weaknesses, which urges them to put more meaning and direction in their efforts. In addition to receiving a graphic representation of their current level, dancers are awarded a virtual “medal”, based on their overall score. The Hawks Method has its own ranking system, inspired by medals, as an incentive for dancers to yearn for “perfection”. Embarking for the Hawks Method is indeed accepting to challenge oneself, but also to rank oneself in relation to others.

How did you come up with it?
The Hawks Method is inspired from a note book (or rather a series of note books) which I always carry with me and in which I write down all the info I gain and ideas I develop about dance, as well as drawings and sketches I have been doing for the last 10 years. This note books have always been evolving. The first ones just contained drawings, then questions and answers “how to be a good freestyler?” “who do I want to meet” “what do I have” “what are my strengths and my weaknesses?”. Often, asking myself the right questions, more and more sophisticated questions, has been more important than finding answers. I finalised the concept of the method in the last few years. It has now been running for a year, and I’ve already organised 3 editions.

Who is it suitable for?
It’s for everybody. 1) beginners/youngsters so they start to grasp the art of freestyle. They can be shy and hesitant, the Method pushes them to go beyond observation. 2) intermediate/confirmed dancers so they test their abilities and identify strengths and weaknesses that they might not be aware of. The method is like a mirror to look at themselves from a different angle. 3) teachers: there are always meetings before each Method and these are truly brainstorming sessions for us as a community of teachers. We discuss about the terms we use when we teach and realise for example that we use different labels to talk about the same things. It gives us an opportunity to discuss about our respective pedagogies and references in a constructive way. This way we strengthen our community. These conversations are truly needed. I think they are very fruitful and I noticed that the insights gained were put to work by some teachers on other projects.

What has the response from the community been like so far?
Overall, I have received good feedback, but as with every new initiative, I’ve received criticism as well — criticism is always precious because it helps to refine a concept. One thing that must be kept in mind is that the format of the Method is very unusual: it is not really a battle and not really a workshop, but it involves the process of evaluation. As such it revives the never-ending debate about the subjectivity of judges, and whether it is possible to ever get objective feedback about one’s dance. This is a very important debate which can never really be put to rest. What matters to me is to keep this conversation going. Hip-hop is not an academic dance and freestyle is at the heart of our culture. What I want to encourage with the Method is dancers’ growth.

What are your future plans?
I aim to turn the Hawks Method into a week-long dance camp as well as a competition, but also ultimately wish to publish a book and found an institute dedicated to hip-hop dance pedagogy. I started giving guest lectures in US universities (University of Southern California, University of Syracuse), and wish to further engage in, and contribute to, academic conversations and debates in the realm of dance studies and hip-hop studies.

How can people contact you if they have any further questions?
You are invited to visit the website of the Hawks Method: www.hawksmethod.com. If you have questions of feedback, do not hesitate to get in touch with us at contact@hawksmethod.com

Thank you!

Photos by: Randy