'Aw man, my face looks wack up there,' I hear as a cloud of cologne wafts over where I am seated in the rear of the Director's Guild of America cinema. The young gentleman responsible for both the auditory and olfactory stimulations introduces himself as Larry as he shakes my hand, visibly glowing in the reflected light of his own paint-covered face on the big screen. 'I've always been famous in the hood, but now I'm becoming known and getting respect from all these people in Hollywood and it feels a little weird, but pretty cool. Just got to stay positive through it all', Larry divulges to me after the screening, while young girls clamor for his autograph, while in contrast Tight Eyes, the founder of the explosive Krumping, sits alone on the other side of the building with the LAFF sign hovering above him.
the hottest dance moves you've seen since the 'Beat It' video hit MTV
Larry's joy was both palpable and contagious, and the hundreds of kids who had been bussed in from downtown and south central LA for the first screening of RIZE at the Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF) couldn't get enough. Their excitement was audible throughout the film and at the end of the screening - when many of the dancers were called up on stage by their ringleader, Tommy the Clown - they became pretty rowdy. Larry had been left out of the roll call - which seems odd since he originally became a pupil of Tommy the Clown eight years ago at the tender age of 12 - but that didn't stop him from a little grandstanding. Larry simply stood amidst the teeming fans and shouted, 'Hey! What about me!' What ensued was a demonstration of the hottest dance moves you've seen since the Beat It video hit MTV 20-some years ago.
You're probably asking yourself, 'Clowns? Krumping? South Central? Beat It? What's this all about?' Well, it's nothing less than the hottest new dance craze around: The Clown Dance.
This new form of moving and shaking began in the streets of LA nearly a decade ago, instigated by Tommy the Clown. Newly out of jail, Tommy put on a rainbow ‘fro and started entertaining kids on their birthdays, which soon progressed to teaching them how to dance (there is now even a Tommy the Clown Academy). The kids caught on and started forming new types of gangs, Clown Groups. Many broke off from dancing at birthday parties and started dancing for themselves in parking lots, garages and living rooms.
Krumping is...lightning-fast moves and unbelievable strength
Freed from the constraint of having to be PC for the younger set, the older teenagers started releasing something deeper through their dancing. Societal frustration, pent-up anger, and plain-old teen angst flowed into the free-form dance and something new evolved - Krumping. 'Getting Krumped' became the new thing, and a bit of a rival to the Clown Gangs. On seeing the beginnings of a division, Tommy the Clown decided to play into the war, starting the 'Battle Zone', an old-school style dance-off, where whoever the audience screams for the most wins. In one of the craziest scenes in the film the Clowns file into the Great Western Forum dressed in silk Rocky-style boxing gowns with a crowd of thousands screaming for them. Larry strolled in wearing a floor-length mink coat with requisite gold chains. The Krumpers appear rawer, clad in street clothes not dissimilar to a Japanese Anime gang - clearly derived from clowns but clowns no longer.
Both styles of dance feature a lot of flailing, butts bouncing up and down, and a good bit of whole-body shaking. The Clowns, as you might imagine, are more about playing tricks and mocking their opponents, while the Krumpers show a bit more street-toughness, 'a come-on and beat this', signal followed by lightning-fast moves and unbelievable strength. All the while a wholly original soundtrack blares 'Krump, Clown, break it on down'.
David LaChappelle's amazing photography shone most brightly while capturing dancers 'Getting Krumped'. The only title in the film came at the beginning: 'This footage has not been sped up in any way'. At times this was indeed hard to believe; in night scenes that came close to looking like gang warfare; in a living room session where the dancers came within inches of slamming into the camera; and in a gorgeous scene (chosen as the poster-image for the movie) where some of the top dancers performed in front of a perfectly blue sky, while drenched in sweat in the Los Angeles River channel.
A stunning and inventive documentary, RIZE is starting to get the attention it deserves (Roger Ebert mentioned RIZE and Me and You and Everyone We Know as the two inventive alternatives to Bewitched and Mr. and Mrs. Smith on Jay Leno on June 22nd) - and the dancers are riding the wave. During the live dance show which followed the screening, each of the dancers took the mic in turn. Larry told us to look out for his new album, Lil' C for her clothing line, Tommy the Clown invited us to come to the Debbie Allen studio every other Saturday for dance lessons (see TommytheClown.com), and Tight Eyes implored us to check out KrumpKings.com(where you can see a video of Krump in action) and to look out for the new Krumping instructional video. This reporter felt a touch disheartened by such shameless plugging, having just watching their raw and true story on screen. However, Tommy the Clown redeemed it all by ending with 'Stay Positive. It's the struggle that makes you unique. And stay in school!!'
RIZE opens June 24th in select theatres.