Clowns and Krumpers

Yesterday evening the ABC in Australia showed David LaChapelle‘s film Rize (2005). The film has been shown previously on ABC in Australia and was reviewed by Margaret Pomeranz and Triple J in 2005.

Rize introduced me to clowning and krumping as alternatives to membership in gangs. A review of Rize gives some background about the founder of this form of dance Tommy the Clown and its social context.

There are few career paths open to the children of these neighbourhoods (South Central Los Angeles) and drugs and gang culture offers a seemingly quick way to earn money and prestige, and as many of their families and friends are involved in gangs it can prove difficult to break out of this way of life. Krumping not only provides a physical outlet for young peoples frustration but can also creates alternative social structures and allows young people to gain respect from their peers and their community. For Tommy the Clown the success of his dancing has turned his life around and dance has provided him much more than just a steady income. After a spell in jail for drug dealing he was asked to perform at a kids party and began a business as a hip hop clown. His art and his business has grown from there to include a Clowning Dance Academy and number of high profile ‘Battle Zone’ dance competitions in huge stadiums with thousands of spectators. Whilst dancing can help people work out their emotions, it can also offer alternative career paths. The Krump dancers featured in the film have gone on to use their dancing to actually escape the ghetto and are starting out as dancers and choreographers. Dancer Miss Prissy choreographed and starred in Madonna’s new video Hung Up and others have also been snapped up by the likes of Missy Elliott and the Black Eyed Peas.

This 2007 video and report provide more information about Tommy and Krump. One reviewer of Rize observed that “By allowing the story of Krumping and Clowning to come from the mouths of those who live and breath it, he (Lachapelle) brings to the fore the relationship between dance and society with startling clarity and inscribed on the body of the dancer.”

There is a Battle Zone within Krump:

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.

There is a Cage version of this battle Zone that is “grimey and reps what Krump was when it started but with the highest levels of Krump. The battles were all in good vibes and even the beef battles brought everyone closer.”
By the end of Rize I was sold on clowning and krumping. Perhaps it was because I had spent part of the day reading Digital Habitats that I saw a wonderful opportunity to explore stewardship from a different perspective. Tommy the Clown has many of the characteristics discussed by Etienne, Nancy and John with regard to the rhythms of togetherness and separation:

Time and space present a challenge for communities. Forming a community of practice requires sustained mutual engagement over time. It takes more than one transient conversation; it does not arise from merely having the same job title in different locations. It requires learning together with enough continuity and intensity of engagement that the definition of the domain, the weaving of the community and the development of the practice become shared resources.

I was thinking too about communication. The evolution of krumping prompted me to think about microblogging and its transformation since 2006. Perhaps I am overworking the issues here but the colonisation of a mode of expression has some real parallels for me with digital authorship. I like the ideas around the rhythm of communication and the opportunities to find the edges around shared interests.

Photo Credits
Rob Helfman D_18278A
Tommy the Clown
Tommy the Clown y’all
Chaz Wags lasgueritas


  1. What a great story! I’d point out that togetherness and SEPARATION work together. The gangs you write about have plenty of togetherness but krumping starts out as a kind of separation. For communities of practice it ends up being important that practitioners work in settings that are diverse enough to stimulate the conversations.
    Can’t wait to watch all the videos you are linking to.

    • Thank you for finding the post, John. It was if the day was primed by reading Digital Habitats. The evolution of krumping is a powerful example of the role of narrative, I think. Rize provides some remarkable examples of the separation and the conversations you note in yyour comment.
      Best wishes

  2. I really loved this. I was into all that gangs and other types of other crap but i learned from it and now that is know i have a long time to live and have fun I know that i want to e something in life when i get older i have kids I am only sixteen years old at the moment and i finally realized after some hard times that i just really wanted to do something for a change in my life and i did ask my friends did they want to join me and they were all like that they got something better to do then dancing and I had to let them know that this club thing is more than just dancing its a small community for young people who know what they have in the future and they are going to take advantage of it starting now


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