If you haven't heard of the new urban dance art form called krumping, you're about to. (If you're like me, you probably just heard about it, in yesterday's New York Times Magazine, according to which it is about to sweep the country via a documentary called "Rize." It's already been featured in a couple of music videos. So this is the last moment to see it in its inward-focused innocence, before fashion models start imitating it on the runway.)
Krumping, according to Guy Trebay's Times Magazine article, mutated from the "clowning" of a born-again ex-con and ex-drug dealer called Tommy the Clown, and absorbed other urban dance forms ("stripper dancing," "the whip," "wilding out") as it spread through the blighted black, Latino, Filipino and white neighborhoods of South Central L.A. It's an intensely competitive, athletic, fiercely martial, and spiritual form of self-expression and self-transcendence. Many of its artists, who bond in crews and take "dance names" like Tight Eyez and Lil Mama, are Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians, and dancing for them is both discipline and release, a positive alternative to gangbanging that they invented themselves. It sounds like a new spontaneous outbreak of the ancient human archetype known in Pentecostal churches as possession by the Holy Spirit, in voudun as being ridden by the loa, that was probably integral to the clown kachina dances of the Pueblo Indians** and was surely central to the rites of Dionysos. When these kids become totally possessed by the dance, it's said that they get krumped.
''Some people say, 'Oh, you could be doing something positive,' but this is our positive,'' [Hot Rod] Soriano, [a young Filipino founder of the Rice Track Family], said. ''Some people, when they have problems, write in their diary.'' Krump dancing ''is our diary,'' he added. ''It's our everyday.'' . . .
[Anybody sense a blogging metaphor here?]
A krump session always involves one of these showdowns, in which two dancers meet inside a circle and take wild posturing runs at each other, mock attacks that are both martial and balletic. . . . .Like sessions in the St. Louis jazz clubs of the 1920's, or the 1980's break-dance competitions in the South Bronx, [krump dance showdown(s) known as] battle zones, both formal and impromptu, serve as laboratories for an evolving and distinctly American art form. . . .
''You see so much at a krump gathering,'' Gogit says. ''You see a movement and add the idea to your own movement and watch a dance tape and take something from that.'' In ''Rize,'' Lil C, a brilliant dancer, gives some sense of the competitive ardor of dancers on the new scene when he says, ''If you don't dance for two days, we know it.'' New moves, attitudes and extreme forms of mime and posture are being invented on playgrounds and in clubs all the time. . . .
Tight Eyez had already come to the conclusion that dancing ''was one thing I could do in a positive direction, that if I did it maybe I could avoid getting shot and ending up dead.'' By then, he had been dancing with one or another clown groups and then solo in his ''laboratory,'' a room at his mother's house he sleeps in and uses as his practice studio. He had been clocking the movements of his competitors as religiously as did the dance greats of an earlier era, tap dancers like Honi Coles, Bill Robinson and particularly the underestimated genius Chuck Green, who used to study the competition at impromptu club battles, then return to his studio, dissect their moves, torquing or slowing steps, playing with tempo until his feet crowded the rhythm and the music seemed to follow him, not the other way around. . . . "If I might see a move at a battle, I'll take it back to the laboratory and work on it for the next time''. . . .
Here I am, this almost-60-year-old white lady (when I read my own Blogger profile -- "female, 59" -- I'm like, yikes, that can't be me! Someone just admired my legs in the park last night! True, it was dark), and none of this is alien to me. I was as far as you could get (a few blocks, on the South Side of Chicago, in a galaxy far, far away) from a ghetto kid who barely survives drive-by shootings, but I was a tied-in-knots neurotic, depressed, painfully shy late-teenager, virtually tongue-tied in the presence of my cooler peers. Then I discovered I could dance. I couldn't talk, but boy, could I dance. I could become as boneless as a banner, and the music was the wind. It was total release from my prison of shyness, of lumpen me-ness -- power, joy, surrender, invention, peerless assurance and transcendence.
I didn't belong to a culture that made anything of dancing or took it seriously. It was just something we did for fun, mostly viewed, mostly mistakenly, as a form of sexual come-on and foreplay. (For those who really loved to dance, that was only a minor note in it. All life's movements are broken down and abstracted into the dance.) I used to envy the Hare Krishnas, because a religion lived through dancing, lots of dancing, made total sense to me. I envied the all-night ravers when they came along and I was too old and obligated to join them. I would have loved to have a "dance name." I love to go to weddings because it's the only time I still get to blow out. (Dancing wildly at someone's wedding is a mitzvah in the Jewish tradition.) People gather around, forget I'm this almost-60-year-old lady, and cheer me on like they do this little girl:
Tommy the Clown cued up the the film's theme song, built around the refrain ''Krump, clown, break it on down!'' Then he tugged a young girl from the audience into the center of the assembly hall.
''You gonna clown for us?'' Tommy asked the 12-year-old student, who seemed understandably overcome with shyness.
''Turn the music up,'' he said, and suddenly the girl decided to take the challenge. Finding her place in the beat, she started pumping her arms, pistoning her hips and miming the don't-mess-with-me movements that are the essence of krumping.
''O.K., now, girl, go get it,'' Tommy the Clown hooted, laughing.
''Go ahead now,'' said one of Tommy's other dancers. ''Take it out. Get krumped!''
"I gazed at the ten silly-looking, but nonetheless sacred, serious, even dangerous, Mudhead clowns. Adobe-colored beings in tight-fitting cotton masks with inside-out eyes and doughnut-shaped mouths, simultaneously expressing eternal amazement and voracious hunger. Ears, antennae, and genitals (stuffed with hand-spun cotton, garden seeds, and the dust of human footprints) protruded knoblike from their heads. Without noses or hair, they were naked except for lumpy orange-brown body paint, feathered ear ornaments, black neck scarves, men's woolen kilts, and women's blanket dresses, concealing their tied-down penises."
"The dust of human footprints!" As an ingredient in a recipe for fecundity! That's what got to me. Go read more about them: their perfectly krumpy dance names, like Small Mouth, Old Buck and Old Youth, and the gifts they bring, and the way they possess their bearers.
Old Youth. Now, I could see that as a dance name . . .