'Krump' Dances Into Mainstream

Thomas Johnson, who uses the moniker Tommy the Hip Hop Clown when he performs, is credited with being the father of clown dancing. David Lachapelle, Rize
This story was written by's Nicola Menzie
Accomplished photographer and music video director David LaChapelle is known for training his creative eye on stars like Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani and Christina Aguilera, but for the past three years he's been focused on a group of underprivileged young people living in South Central Los Angeles who are at the head of a new dance movement, which they are determined to bring center stage.

LaChapelle helps them realize that aspiration with "RIZE," his first full-length cinematic venture.

"RIZE" is a vibrantly shot, high-octane documentary that takes viewers into the vulnerable and unpredictable lives of these inner-city youth who use a dance called krump to keep their hopes alive and their heads above the water.

Krumping is a high-energy mix of breakdancing, gymnastics and spasm-like movements. The dance is akin to what may go on in a mosh pit, in that it's a raw reflexive response to the music. But instead of slam dancing to rock n' roll, these kids pop their limbs, gyrate their torsos and stomp their feet to hip hop music. And though they closely resemble breakdancers, krump dancers are constantly in high gear and in some cases, flaunt even more dexterity.

The dance originated as clowning under the hand of Thomas Johnson, a.k.a. Tommy the Hip Hop Clown. In 1992, Tommy made an impromptu appearance at a child's birthday party at the behest of a friend who desperately needed entertainment for the kids. Well, Tommy showed up in clown regalia –- makeup, over-sized shoes, wig and all -- threw a few dance moves into his routine, and the kids went crazy.

The routine stuck and so did the kids' interest, and pretty soon dancing clown cliques were popping up all over South Central. Tommy even oversaw a clown dancing academy and organized community events and competitions, a popular one being the Battle Zone.

The Battle Zone is fierce, kinetic, no-holds bar dancing, where the objective – much like with breakdancing – is to put your opponent to miserable shame. So the krumpers and the clowns dance fast and they dance hard to be crowned the best by an audience of their peers.