Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Culture Lesson: Krumping

Krumping is a two decade-old style of street dancing. The freestyle dancing is frenetic, and involves swinging arms, chest pops, and stomping. Krumping is a product of South Central Los Angeles, and has been gaining popularity in recent years.

Some may consider it a result of clowning, a similar style of dance. However, many dispute the two styles of dancing, so tread carefully in this area. (I'm personally annoyed that Tyra Banks lumped the two for an episode of America's Next Top Model.)

Clowning is less competitive in origin, whereas krumping has always been competitive and been tied closely to dance battles. (And you laughed when Britney and Justin had a dance off after they broke up!) Founded by Thomas Johnson/Tommy the Clown, of Compton, in 1992, clowning was a similar style of dance performed for spectators. Yes, the dancers dressed like clowns. The founders of krumping were originally proteges of Tommy and broke off to dance in their preferred style, which was considered more manic, frantic, and improvisational than clowning. Both styles of dance are supposed to invoke a positive influence on the dancers and spectators' lives and provide an alternative to a negative lifestyle that is hard to avoid in the low income areas of Los Angeles.

Here's a clip from the aforementioned episode of America's Next Top Model. The girls have to pose and dance for their shoot for Payless Shoes. In the show's defense, this episode did encourage me to do a little extra research, and it probably had a similar affect on others, too.

Krumpers usually gather in teams, just as the clowns are grouped in the video above, and compete in "Battle Zones." Organized by Tommy, the two groups compete for a large audience. Ideally, these competitions serve as a positive influence in the community, and give young people something to focus on.

Krumping became more popular and well known following the 2005 film Rize. Directed by artist David LaChapelle (not the comedian, that's Dave Chapelle), the film explores the origins and competitions of krumping (and clowning):

I don't think my body knows how to do that.

Krumping has become a part of the pop culture landscape. (See above Simpsons video as evidence.) Lil' C, one of the credited founders of krumping, is a judge and choreographer on So You Think You Can Dance (the sixth season winner was a krumper!), a popular reality program. He was also a guest judge on Dance Your Ass Off

Here's a video of So You Think You Can Dance winner Russell Ferguson:

Krumping has also been included in film (Bring It On: All Or Nothing) and various music videos, from Madonna to Christina Aguilera. (Her videos were directed by LaChapelle.) The popular Black Eye Peas song "Hey Mama" features the style of dancing in its video.

Way cooler than the foxtrot, right?

Additional Resources:
Krumping, Wikipedia
Tommy the Clown
Krump Kings

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