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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

Krump dancing or krumping is a modern, aggressive, freestyle street dance involving energetic and volatile moves. It includes an often violent flaying of the arms as well as bangs, chest pops, kill-offs, puzzles, stomps and syncs. Krumping can involve physical contact between the dancers, like a mock fight. The dance has been described as “hip hop on speed”. It evolved out of a dance form called clown dancing or clowning which started in the South Central Los Angeles’ African-American community in the early 1990s.

The original clown dancer was one Thomas Johnson who was asked by a co-worker to be a clown at a children’s birthday party because of his extrovert personality. He took up the challenge and before long Tommy the Clown was a popular act at kids’ birthday parties all over Los Angeles. Part of his act included a dance style which became known as clown dancing, and he would encourage the children to get up and dance with him. As his popularity grew, he formed a group of support dancers called the Hip Hop Clowns who performed with him. Members had to meet his requirements of no drugs, no gangs, do well in school, and so on.

More young people wanted to join the Hip Hop Clowns than Johnson could take on, so he encouraged them to start their own groups. By 2002, Los Angeles had over 60 clown dancing crews. Competition emerged among the dance crews as to who was best and Johnson knew this could lead to trouble if not managed properly. So he held weekly dance competitions or “battles” at his Tommy the Clown Academy. It was here that the word “krump” (Kingdom Radically Uplifted Mighty Praise) was first used, describing the dancing’s intensity. As the popularity of the competitions escalated, Johnson began an event called the Battle Zone. Eventually, this was held at the Los Angeles Forum, which holds 18,000 people. Soon Tommy the Clown and his Hip Hop Clowns were traveling all over the world.

Krumping developed as an off-shoot of clown dancing as many of the kids were getting older and no longer wanted to associate with clowns and face paint. While very similar, krumping is the more aggressive of the two forms with its expressions of anger or pent-up emotion and high degree of individuality. Krumping has become the main form of the two dances. It is often graded by degree of difficulty, with the three main levels being Krump, Buckness and Ampness. There are a number of krumping styles, including “dissing” (from disrespectful) and “sick” movements such as grimey and snaking, as well as beasty, bully, cocky, flashy, goofy (regarded as the least aggressive), jerky, rugged, and tricks.

Krump dancers organize themselves into groups known as families or “fams”. Each group is led by a senior dancer called Big Homie who acts as a dance instructor, mentor, and de facto sibling to the younger and less experienced Lil’ Homies. A hierarchical structure can include levels or names such as baby, boy, child, general, infant, jr., kid, lil’, prince, souljah, tiny, twin and young. Rankings can differ between families. The Lil’ Homies often share the name of the Big Homie. For example, if the Big Homie is called Tight Eyez, other “fam” members might be given names like Jr Eyez, Baby Eyez and Prince Eyez.

Krumping is now part of popular culture. In 2005, David LaChapelle made an 86 minute documentary, “Rize”, tracing the sub-cultures of clown dancing and krumping. The film includes interviews with both clown dancers and krumpers and shows a dance battle between the two groups. Krumping has become a mainstream dance featuring in popular music videos, television shows such as “So You Think You Can Dance” and “The Simpsons”, and movies such as “Bring It On: All or Nothing” and “Stomp the Yard”. There’s even a competition to decide the krump dancing world champion.