Ron and I watched Rize last night. You may have seen the style of dance called krumping (or the precursor: clowning). Frenetic, slightly crazed and lightspeed neo-tribal – it reminds me of a whirling dervish. The movie takes place in the Watts neighborhood and surrounding areas. A guy named Tommy the Clown started it all by simply parking his car, cranking the bass and dancing like a madman to advertise his services as a birthday party clown. Eventually kids wanted to join him and he started a clown academy. Kids start to forego the drugs/gang scene to clown and dance. It is so absurd and totally remarkable. Gradually, Tommy’s alumni move off and start their own clown groups until there’s fifty-plus clown groups all over the region. Tommy’s aesthetic becomes mutated from clowning to krumping – which seemed more aggressive,sexualized and confrontational than Tommy’s original vision. In the finale the clowns and the krumpers have a dance-off to decide who rules the roost. (What roost-ruling really means though is as ephemeral as a sports trophy.)
What is fascinating is the mentoring effect Tommy has on these kids and the seriousness with which the parents (well, the moms) take their kids interest in clowning. It is so insanely creative in the face of the gangbanger life path.
What is frustrating is when the clowning/krumping ends with the dancing. The kids start to see other options besides gangs and crime but don’t make that connection to something outside their neighborhoods. And I think that is indicative of poverty – the fear of leaving ‘my home.’ To ask the rude question: ‘Why don’t poor people just move?’ And that is a typical question – and I don’t know all the ins and outs of poverty and that is what is frustrating. Options. If you don’t think you have any options then you don’t have any options. Other rude statements (which I fully admit are without nuance or compassion): ‘You’re just doing it to yourself.’ ‘Why don’t you move your kids out of there?’ ‘Where are the fathers?’ ‘If you’re so spiritual with God then why are you screaming obscenities at the slightest aggravation?’ ‘You’re dancing and releasing aggression and energy – what are you going to do with it?’
Anyway – thought-provoking (and at times heart-breaking) film and beautifully captured by photographer David LaChappelle. His portraiture is always about the collision of celebrity and absurdity and in this film he collides with poverty/crime and the absurdity of a clown troupe in Watts.
We’ll know it has come full circle when Madonna features krumping in her videos and it ends up on a white middle-class gay dance floor. Everyone will just think you’re withdrawing though.
Oh crap – I’m wrong. I haven’t seen Madonna’s Hung Up video all the way through which does feature krumping (I think Missy Elliot was the first to feature it in a mainstream video). Nevermind. Way to go co-optin’ grandma!