Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan



I guess I’m probably the last to hear about the clown dancers of South Central Los Angeles and Watts and Inglewood, places most white people never go. Also about “stripper dancing,” and “krumping.” My understanding is that this sort of dance is in a lot of music videos these days, but since I never see music videos …

This movie was a revelation to me. Briefly, a guy who later named himself Tommy the Clown got out of prison with the idea of turning his life around. He started dressing up, painting his face, and performing at birthday parties with magic tricks blended with hip-hop dancing. And then it just took off. There were clowns all over the place.

And the dancing … you run out of adjectives and images trying to describe it. Remember how stunned you were the first time you saw breakdancing? This is like that, only to the nth degree. It is so fast that the director chose to open the film with the assurance that no speed-up effects were used, otherwise you would have hardly believed what you were about to see. Then it evolved, as these things do. One guy says that the styles change every day; if you don’t dance for a week when you come back into the scene you find that all your best moves are old hat. There is now an offshoot called krumping, and it is less joyous and more violent … but not real violent. I was reminded of pro wrestling. Lots of bluster, but none of the shouting. Guys and girls face off and go through in-your-face violent moves. You might think you’re seeing a fistfight … only there are no punches. Shoving is allowed, but it never comes to blows. It’s all sheer exuberant and purgative display. You think of voodoo ceremonies, of tent revival meetings when people are seized by the spirit. And that’s a big part of it, getting into a zone where your body can do things it couldn’t do before. It goes even deeper than that. At one point the movie cuts between these street kids and tribes in Africa, painting their faces and dancing wildly.

You know, I don’t like rap, I seldom care for hip-hop … and yet I just sat through 80 minutes of it [without a smoke break even] and enjoyed every second. Part of it is context. I’d never listen to rap on the radio or buy a rap tape, but it is the only possible music for this kind of dancing. And the music they are dancing to is not the offensive stuff about offing pigs and beating up your ho, either. It’s angry, but why shouldn’t it be? These kids have nothing but dancing. So far as I can see, krumping, battle dancing without fists, knives, or guns is the only family many of these kids will ever know, unless it’s a regular street gang. And the Crips and Bloods don’t bother them, either. They respect what they’re doing, even as the clowns provide an exciting alternative to the banger insanity.

Is this the solution to the hopelessness and drugs and poverty of the ghetto? No, but it’s a small step in the right direction.