Krump moves from street to stage

Written by
David LaChappelle’s 2005 documentary “Rize”

In 2005, fashion photographer David LaChappelle made a documentary called “Rize” about a dance style that was born on the streets of LA. Now, two of the dancers featured in the film are taking this raw form of expression and bringing it to a more polite environment. KCRW’s Matt Holzman has more.

The Radio Shack and the bank in this mini-mall in North Hollywood have been closed for hours.  But if you drive-through the Carl’s Jr. on a Wednesday after midnight, you’ll see a group of guys – mostly African-American – standing around in the parking lot.  Most people hurry off with their burgers.   But that’s too bad, because they’re missing something.

A skinny kid in a baseball cap enters the circle, and everyone goes nuts as he punches and jerks… “raw” is the word that comes to mind.  This is Krump, a dance originally born out of the anger and frustration of life in South L.A.

The documentary “Rize” made Krump famous for a minute, but it never really went mainstream.  That’s because it doesn’t have set moves you can copy, and it’s too edgy and emotional to sell fast food all that well.  Now, on something like Krump’s 10th birthday, it’s having a coming-out party of sorts.

It’s noon in a complex of dance studios not far from that mini-mall in North Hollywood.  The hallways are lined with hopeful young women auditioning for a Disney show.  But world-class Krumpers with names like Ruin and King Charles are working up a sweat in Studio E.

Miss Prissy (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

This show is Miss Prissy’s baby.  She was a fierce presence in the LaChapelle documentary.  But here, in her big Buddy Holly glasses, she looks more like the classically-trained dancer she is.  She’s been a choreographer and back-up dancer for some of the biggest name in pop, but she’s still a regular at that parking lot in North Hollywood.  And now she’s combined her two worlds in a show called “The Underground: From The Street to the Stage.”

Watching the dancers in the parking lot and in this studio, I imagine this is what a Jackson Pollock must have looked like to landscape painters back in the day – no rules, all emotion.  So it’s going to take some work to translate what they’re doing to USC’s soaring, elegant, 1,200 seat Bovard Auditorium.

Of course the danger is not that you’re grooming a poodle but putting a collar on a pitbull.   Miss Prissy seems willing to take that risk to bring Krump to a wider audience and ensure that it lives on.

Miss Prissy’s brought in Lil’ C to choreograph with her – stage is maybe a better word since a lot of their show, like all Krump, will be improvised.  He’s another dancer from “Rize” made good – you’d probably know him from “So You Think You Can Dance.”  But he’s not lost any of his street cred – and neither he nor any of the other dancers I talked to are worried that the stage will change Krump… more like the other way around.

On Wednesday the audience is going to be filled with street dancers who may have a hard time staying in their seats.  Don’t be at all surprised if the show turns into organized chaos.

The Underground: From the Streets to the Stage” invades USC tomorrow night.  Free tickets may still be available.