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Origins of krumping explored in ‘Rize’

Courtney Wilson | Monday, September 26, 2005

Leave your biases toward the traditional documentary behind. RIZE exudes the passion and exhilaration of South Central Los Angeles’ most inspired street dance, minus the commentary of studied academia or prolonged narration.

Director and Producer David La Chapelle lets all intrigue rely on the dancing and the dancers themselves. Intentionally or not, he stimulates the viewer’s own inquiry without any forced study or social stance.

A well-known music video director within the hip-hop world, La Chapelle shows strength in his visual presentation above all else. The magic of this documentary is not reflected in the words or the speech but in the vitality and the truth of the dance itself.

The film follows two teams of dancers whose self-declared purpose and passion lie in the creative stimulation of their highly intense dance. Initiated by the motivations of central character “Tommy the Clown,” a hypnotic dance subculture has quickly erupted.

A former drug dealer in what many consider to be one of the most violently dangerous neighborhoods in the country, Tommy finds a youth-inspired route of escape. What begins as a birthday entertainment act transforms into an alternative to South Central’s most infamous street gangs.

Critics noted La Chapelle’s lack of attention to the greater social and political problems surrounding the crime-stricken neighborhood, as they are seemingly pushed into the background of a somewhat superficial visual production. Logically, however, the characters remain quiet on the subject of their neighborhood outside of what is generally understood.

It seems as though the movie is somewhat hesitant to open up about the characters’ entire experiences, as it could prove threatening to their real lives outside of the focus of the camera. The film does, however, put a positive spin on life beyond their downtrodden experiences and focuses mainly on the artistic expression in the dancing and the friendships which encourage them.

The expanding circle of more than fifty “clown groups” all clearly stem from the dance’s creator, “Tommy the Clown.” Moving from what may be considered another cheap imitation, a few of the groups evolve to create a distinct and individual style of their own. Perhaps the most notable and most focused are the former “Clowners” turned “Krumpers,” whose interest is in a more primal, frantic style of dance which involves intense speed and can sometimes look like a sort of self-brutality.

La Chapelle seems to allude to some interpretations of the “krumping” stylistic origins, through his introduction of historic African-American riot footage and the placement of several African tribal dance clips.

The cinematography in the movie is almost as intense as the dance itself. La Chapelle does an amazing job at capturing the emotion in the movements. The images of “krump” characters Miss Prissy, Dragon and Tight Eyez, soaked in sweat and gyrating against the backdrop of a perfectly clear sky are visually thrilling. The characters are intriguing with their passionate energy and raw creativity. “Krumping” is what Dragon describes as his “ghetto ballet.” Their dance of expression will leave you amazed. Whether they are “clowning,” “krumping” or doing the “stripper dance,” you might just find yourself wanting to know more.