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To Krump or not to Krump? That is the question
by Georgina Harper
'Ghetto Ballet' is the description that one dancer gives to the new dance form emerging from the streets of LA.
Krumping isn't just a dance style, it’s a state of mind. The word can be used as a verb; 'to krump' or to 'get krump' and to 'be krump' is a compliment.
A new documentary film, Rize, (went on general release at the end of December 2005), introduces the very latest development in hip-hop dance. Krumping expresses the hardships and frustrations of a whole generation of America's poorest underclass.
Directed by fashion photographer David LaChapelle and set against the race riots of 1965 and the Rodney King riots of 1992, the film portrays a group of young people who discovered that dance could provide an alternative to the gang culture that pervades life in the ghettos of South Central Los Angeles.
At the opening of the film a young dancer, Dragon, declares 'this is not a trend, repeat, this is not a trend. You ain't never seen life expressed like this.'
In light of the social tensions exploding on the streets of France and the recent riots in Birmingham, the film's message about the value of artistic expression to socially deprived communities reaches European shores at a poignant time.
Following Tommy the Clown, creator of the 'Clowning' dance style and a breakaway group of ex-clown dancers who have developed their own style called 'Krumping', the film explores the dancing against the harsh backdrop of the ghetto.
These dance forms are strongly rooted in the traditions of Hip Hop, both in a physical sense and a philosophical one. Physically we see the creation of a circle of participants within which people take turns to dance, the incorporation of movements like body popping and the competitive 'battle' aspect.
Philosophically Krumping goes back to the most authentic foundations of Hip Hop; the use of dance and music as a response to oppression. Whilst echoes of Hip Hop remain, this new style has many original features. The clowns have colourful painted faces and Krumpers sport a pared down, more stylised camouflage. The facepaint acts as a mask, allowing the dancers to assume a new persona and express themselves in new ways. Tommy describes the painted face of his clown character as his 'weapon' and dancing as his 'getaway'. The sheer speed of the movement is also a defining feature.
In Krumping the dancers often achieve a trance-like state, lashing out at a breakneck pace, pushing each other, scrambling and releasing pent up aggression.
Most importantly is a shift in attitude; the dancers are clear that they don't agree with commercial Hip Hop's glamorisation of ghetto life and Krumping is about more than dancing the latest moves. Through Krumping dancers express their anger and frustration and channel the negative into a positive, facing and exorcising their demons.
A new artistic voice or a very old one?
Hip Hop dance artist Jonzi D first brought Tommy the Clown and the Hip Hop Krumpers to the UK two years ago to perform at Sadler's Wells Hip Hop Festival Breakin' Convention. He suggests that the most innovative new dance and music forms have often originated in poor African American neighbourhoods, including Blues, Jazz and Tap dance and that these forms have eventually been assimilated into mainstream arts and entertainment. He also points out that many of the main elements of these dance and music styles have developed from within African traditions. The film draws parallels between Krumping and traditional African dance forms, from the use of face paint to create 'masks', the circle formations and the trance-like state which the dancers assume.
LaChapelle includes archive footage of traditional African dances highlighting these similarities. The astounding thing is that the dancers, without access to formal dance education of any kind, had never seen footage or even reconstructions of traditional African dance practice. They believe their dance to be 'in their blood' and that the imprint of certain modes of expression have surfaced in Krumping almost beyond their control.
Krumping is certainly an interesting example of the way that dance and movement styles migrate from one continent to another and surface in different locations at different times.
Written by Georgina Harper
Re-edited for Hotfoot by Jeannette Brooks