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Getting krumped: the changing race of hip hop.

Krumping kicks the hip-hop tradition of dance battles up a notch. It's a freestyle dance form that's full-bodied, adrenaline-driven, and confrontational. although deep-seated in hip hop, it departs from the movement vocabularies of b-boying/ b-girling. The dancers are more interactive with each other, sometimes using physical contact and weight sharing.

Film director David LaChapelle's new documentary Krumped shows a crowd of viewers surrounding a smaller grouping of dancers. All of the dancers are moving, bobbing, and nodding to the music, but only one, a young man in casual baggy jeans and white T-shirt, is dancing. With a raw physicality, his arms and torso are pumping to the emphatic rhythm of a hip-hop tune, and he stares boldly out at the audience around him. His syncopated, rapid-fire freestyle flickers between abstract movements and pantomime, but he never loses the beat. If movement were words, this would be a poetry slam. As the energy rises, other dancers explode into the center in response. Absent from this dance are moves that traditionally signify hip hop, like uprocking, freezes, and headspins, but the form is just as nuanced. What you do see is something like improvised sampling, images and poses taken from the world and threaded into a polyrhythmic frenzy. It's about energy.

Krumping developed out of South Central Los Angeles' clown dancing movement. In 1992, Tommy Johnson created a dancing, hip-hop persona named Tommy the Clown, as well as a traveling entertainment crew and a clown dance academy in the African-American community of Compton. Tommy the Clown became a neighborhood staple, providing young kids with a much-needed creative outlet. It caught on and spread to other neighborhoods. He also reimagined the decades-old tradition of dance battles in his creation of The Battle Zone: events and spaces where these clown groups engaged in competition, in which the community audience chose the winners. Krumping grew out of these contests, and during the last two years it has become a dance of its own.

"Getting krumped" is the state in which a dancer feeds off the energy of the audience, the other participants, the music, and his or her own adrenaline until the movement grows theatrical, inventive, and sometimes cathartic. As Dragon, a dancer featured in Krumped, describes it, "Krumpness is an abstraction of your inner being."

Is krumping a minor bump in the speedy trajectory of hip hop, or is it waiting to hit the mainstream and get swept up by the marketplace? Less than three years old, krumping has already been the subject of two documentaries: LaChapelle's Krumped (2004), which was a Sundance Film Festival hit last January, and Shake City 101 (2003), directed by Mark St. Juste. LaChapelle had gotten interested in dance as a student at North Carolina School of the Arts, and discovered krumping while shooting a Christina Aguilera video. He made the film, he says, "to turn the spotlight on these kids. It's something that should be seen."

Where Krumped plays out a rougher, more underground account of the dance, set in the context of its community, Shake City 101 functions more like an entertaining travelogue, following The Shake City All-Stars (a group of former Tommy the Clown dancers), as they engage in a dance battle. Krumping has also been featured in music videos by Missy Elliott, The Black Eyed Peas, and Outkast.

The krumpers are young and work hard. "It takes practice," says dancer and rapper Tsunami, 16. "It's an art." Many of them are still in high school, but have aspirations to choreograph professionally or dance in music videos. Some are already getting their share of exposure. Milk, for example, a current Tommy dancer, was featured in Missy Elliott's I'm Really Hot video.

As St. Juste sees it, krumping is "the physical manifestation of the psyche of today's youth." It's a dance that reveals how they are resisting the formal "limits and boundaries that previous generations had to live under," says St. Juste. Where mainstream hip-hop dance has named and categorized movements, krumping defies such categorization. Dubbed "hip hop's punk rock" by LaChapelle, it proposes an expression of freedom and resistance through dance.

Popping Movement with elements of mime, made by flexing the muscles and joints to the beat of the music. Popularized by groups like the Electric Boogaloos.

Robot Precise, isolated movements and turns that lock into place before the next movement begins.

Rolls or Waves Undulating a part of the body, like an arm or a torso, from one end to the other.

Spins Turns down on an isolated body part--head, knees, shoulders--often inverted and initiated by the hands, feet, or torque of the torso.

Top Rock An upright form of dancing. Influences include Brooklyn uprocking, tap dance, salsa, lindy hop, Afro-American, Afro-Cuban, and Native American dances.

Uprock A "dancing fight" performed with quick, continuous movement. Dancers are very close to each other but don't actually touch. Began in the early 1970s.

Compiled by Heather Wisner with help from David Neumann and input from PureMovement's Hip Hop Study Guide.

Taisha Paggett is pursuing an MFA in choreography in the World Arts and Cultures program at UCLA.
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Title Annotation:Kick it: hip hop special
Author:Paggett, Taisha
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2004
Words:850
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