"Every generation wants to re-create their reality...Now it's our turn...Welcome to our world...Welcome to Buckworld" (Buckworld One).
How to effectively create transformation, whether artistic, political, socio-cultural, individual or all of the above, has yielded a great many debates, theories and practices. Performance, including dance, are but two artistic modes of social movements that have been widely recognized by a variety of scholars, including Robin D.G. Kelley, Paul Gilroy, Thomas DeFrantz, Jill Dolan, Yvonne Daniel, and others, for the important transformative work they do. Following in their footsteps, this article will focus broadly on the cultural work of krumping (1), an Africanist aesthetic dance style that originated in Los Angeles in the 1990's, and how it functions, specifically, for social change within Buckworld One, a hip hop theatre performance, which took place in 2010, in Tempe, Arizona. I will also examine how krump intervenes in both the official and discursive realities of the American Dream and acts as a catalyst for social Justice in these contexts.
As Robin D.G. Kelley's work Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination documents, there have been many social movements that have envisioned and attempted to move themselves and others toward a more just world or "planetary humanity" (Gilroy 2). Buckworld One is an example of such a revolutionary (2) work that at the least envisions, and at the best enacts a better world through/in performance. Much of the power in Buckworld One rests in the responsive Africanist aesthetic dance style of krump to speak to/through the body politic of contemporary USAmerica (3).
"Krump" is a contemporary style of hip hop dance, characterized by an aesthetic energy of asserting bodily presence and power through the physical articulations and interactions between performers and spectators. Since its origins, just before the turn of the twenty-first century, krump/KRUMP/krumping/krump dancing/buck/BUCK/ krumpography has extended its reach from the barrios of Los Angeles to the suburbs of middle USAmerica, with stops along the way within the music videos of Missy Elliot, Madonna, and others; in various Hollywood movies, such as Rize; and on such television shows as the popular, "So You Think You Can Dance" (SYTYCD). It has also spread globally to Japan, Germany, South Africa and other countries, through USAmerican popular-culture media; through cyberspace on You Tube, various krumping websites and chat rooms; and via widely distributed how-to-videos. The manner in which krump's aesthetics are racialized, gendered, classed, and sexualized changes with the contexts in which it is practiced, for what purposes, and by whom, as well as with who is "reading" the practice, whether they be fellow krumpers, other community members, popular culture viewers of SYTYCD, or consumers of music videos. Krumping, as an embodied Africanist aesthetic practice, functions uniquely in different contexts for different purposes. Originators of the style, and current practitioners of the style in the US-America and around the globe, register specific investments in and expressions of krump aesthetics and krump cultures.
Krump originated in Los Angeles from a dance form known as clowning (4). Tommy Johnson, aka Tommy The Hip Hop Clown, created clowning in the mid 1990's, as a means to entertain and provide youth an alternative to becoming involved with gangs and violence. Some of the youth who had danced with Tommy developed krumping, a more hard hitting, spiritual, "aggressive and personal style," where dancers were able to work through difficult emotions of anger and pain in the dance circle (Zanfanga 342). Both dance styles were featured in Rize, a 2005 music video-style documentary film, produced by fashion photographer, David LaChappelle. Even though several other film attempts had been made to document clowning and krumping, Rize rocketed krump into heightened visibility in popular culture through the lens of Hollywood. The subsequent local, national, global, and re-localized evolutions of krump practices and performances forged multi-layered expressions in which the art form has functioned for social change.
In local spaces, where krump is danced within communities, it enacts social change in ways that Yvonne Daniel has described as "social medicine" (55). Daniel asserts that ritual dance practices are places where "power, authority, and community relations are affected, rearranged, or affirmed; social wounds are healed; each community member is accounted for; and the ritual community continues with strong bonds" and thus function as social medicine (55). Through dance/movement practices, Daniel suggests, both individual and social healing can take place (5). Connecting to Daniel's concept of social medicine is Christina Zangfanga's apt description of how:
Krumping is simultaneously a heroic, artistic, proactive expression born out of the deplorable conditions of the inner city and an economically viable commercial endeavor, transcendent in its ability to spiritually and morally rise above oppression and literally transportive as a professional route out of the ghetto. (347) Thus, krumping has created change on spiritual, economic, and social levels.
The ways in which krumping and clown dancing have made a difference, in the individuals and communities featured in Rize, can be heard from the voices of the dancers throughout the film. New communities of krump from Massachusetts to Germany and Holland have also articulated specific ways in which krumping has impacted their lives and communities; this, however, is a subject for another article. For now, I will confine my examples to Rize and how the art forms have impacted those who originated krumping and clowning. Due to a lack of access to arts programming and after school activities other than sports, krumpers Tight Eyez, Lil' C and Dragon, featured in Rize, spoke to how they "invented" krumping.
Tommy the Clown's "The Battle Zone," where opponents, krumpers and clown dancers, come together and battle through dance, created a space to negotiate conflict in a direct and creative manner not affiliated with gangs or violence. Krumpers and clown dancers also spoke to how dance groups created familial relationships that were often lacking in their lives. Miss Prissy and Dragon spoke to how krumping re-connected them to a sense of spiritual and religious practices. Now several krumpers featured in Rize have professional careers launched from the success of the film. There are more specific examples in Rize of how krumping and clown dancing have enacted social change; I have only cited a few. In addition, it is important to note that the ways in which krumping enacts social change beyond its original contexts will be specific, depending on each community and context.
Krump has also served as an instrument of social justice in specific ways that are not community bound in practice, as described above, but in a performance and popular culture settings, as well. Robert Farris Thompson detailed the aesthetic components of pan-African dance and music as " 'the dominance of a percussive concept of performance; multiple meter; apart playing and dancing; call-and-response; and finally the songs and dances of derision,'" (DeFrantz 14). Thomas DeFrantz, asserts that the last attribute--songs and dances of derision--most clearly signifies "the political dimension of 'black dance' performance. In this category, movement provokes metacommentary and suggests narratives outside the physical frame of performance" (DeFrantz 14). Following DeFrantz's assertion, krump, an Africanist aesthetic dance practice performed on theatre stages and in diverse spaces of popular culture, carries a political charge in/through its performance due to its ability to provoke "narratives outside the frame of the physical performance" (14). The political dimension of Black performance is a broad topic written about at length by Thomas DeFrantz, Brenda Dixon Gottchild, Sally Banes and others.
For purposes of example in how krumping highlights matters of social justice in performance spaces, let us consider SYTYCD, a mainstream television show that features such genres as fox trot, Viennese waltz, contemporary, Broadway, hip hop, rumba, krumping, and others. Although the inclusion of krumping does allow for Africanist aesthetic languages to become visible, it certainly does not signify an abandonment of aesthetic prejudice toward the upward held torso and the unbroken line of classically "Western" trained dancers. However, it does create a platform and a visual space of dialogue for narratives beyond and critical to the cultural hegemony in dance aesthetics and society. In this way, as a local practice and as a global performance, krump negotiates within and critiques the borders of the Euro-centered hegemony, even as it emerges through, what James C. Scott refers to as the "public transcripts" of popular culture (x).
Krump's aesthetic critique of social inequity and struggle is implicit and explicit in its postures and gestures of challenge and assertion. Hazzard-Donald's declarations regarding the negotiations of hip hop dance offers a means through which to understand krump's vitality as an artistic language contextually in USAmerican society generally and in Buckworld One specifically. She asserts:
Hip hop dance permits and encourages a public (and private) male bonding that simultaneously protects the participants from and presents a challenge to the racist society that marginalized them. The dance is not necessarily observer friendly; its movements establish immediate external boundaries while enacting an aggressive self-definition. Hip hop's outwardly aggressive postures and gestures seem to contain and channel the dancer's rage. (Hazzard-Donald 229)
Krump's bodily aesthetics negotiate the themes of challenge and competition; however...