An essay by Nora Amin
How does it sound to be the leader of a new dance form at the age of 32? How does it sound to be the leader of a new dance form that is also a lifestyle and a social community, at the age of 32? With Krump it is possible to be a teacher and a leader at an age where you would be still labelled as “an emerging artist” or as part of the “young generation”. Youth can also be associated to experience, expertise and to a world vision that can create new paths for public expression. Krump is a unique model of that.
Generally categorised as part of the huge sector of street dance, Krump is relatively a young dance form that was created in South Central, Los Angeles (USA) by two dancers: Ceasare „Tight Eyez“ Willis, and Jo’Artis „Big Mijo“ Ratti, during the early 2000s. As a form that emerged within a socio-political context of racism and economic discrimination, Krump can always be referred to as an art of expressive communication, building community and retrieving emotional and performative power. While being perceived as free, expressive, exaggerated and highly energetic physical movement, Krump has a strong foundation of historic solidarity within the black community of Los Angeles, a foundation that fuels the dynamics of its growth and popularity.
On one hand, a way to find a peaceful expression of rage towards the status-quo and the existing injustices via an embodiment of dance that embraces the individual experience of each dancer by offering freedom, emotionality and expressivity (versus dance forms that possess an embedded technique or function only through choreographed expressions), Krump offers a possibility of empowering expression that can be considered as a statement by the youth. On the other hand, it provides a refuge from potential gang life via a self constructed social system where the Krumpers form their community and create their own structures/families of mutual support and growth. In that sense, Krump is a dance form created by the youth and practised by them, while always giving space for passing on what would look now – after twenty years of growth – like a heritage.
Belonging and “passing on”
Grichka Caruge is part of this process of “passing on”. Initially “raised” within the family of “Tight Eyez” (already a Krump King at the age of 32), he forms a new link to the Krump movement in time and place. He was already an acknowledged dancer in many forms when he decided to go from France to the United States, and back and forth, his movement seems like a way to connect: connect the diaspora across the globe, connect youth realities and expressions, and connect dance as a process of the emerging/development of identity and its performance.
“Krump’s creation was a necessity; a necessity for gathering to help each other and to feel more protected from the unjust social situation. It was an exit, and a way to transform oppression into a collective rising. Yet this had to operate via a kind of “Écôle de Vie” (Life School) where every person in the Krump community -or family- was part of a discipline that is overviewed by the leader.” Grichka, interview with Nora Amin, 16.08.2020
The leader was a provider as well as a parental figure who would use Krump as a way of pedagogy in order to create an ethical system without violence or physical punishment. Therefore to be within the Krump community is like being within a self chosen family, a family that creates its own discipline, and functions via the dancing body. A kind of belonging that is shaped and expressed via dance, and where dance itself is informed and constructed via that experience of belonging, an experience that respects the autonomy of the dancing body versus canonised and elitist dance, an experience that promotes solidarity versus isolation, and urban acts versus the bourgeois institutionalised performance venues.
Looking back at the Krump history and practise, we can identify it as a dance form that is based on resistance and transformation. Although it was initially created in the United States, Krump succeeded to spread onto all continents, and to address global struggles of racism and of de-humanisation. It can be considered as a dancing and performative discourse of resistance, where rage is mobilised as a central emotion that may fuel the movement, yet the overall discipline, pedagogy and practise of Krump turn it into a performative energy that is expressed, let out and transformed into self empowerment and peaceful community building. With this path, the dynamics of emotionality and expressivity play a vital role so that the dance becomes a catalyst of rage and violence instead of emphasizing them and nourishing them towards aggressive actions. The transformative power of dance performance appears here as a healing tactic, and as a medium of reconciliation.
“Expression is a must in Krump because Krump is expression. You have to let people feel what you’re doing. You can’t just come and get Krump and your Krump has no purpose.” Robert „Phoolish“ Jones; Krump Kings
With those words, we can examine krumping – and even krumpography – as being initiated from a profound emotional source. This leads us to perceive the movements and the physical vocabulary not as merely being “physical” but as carriers of emotions and experiences which are addressed either to a circle of krumpers within a session or street gathering, or addressed to a bigger audience, in both cases the spectator – or fellow krumper – becomes emotionally engaged as well and from there happens a kind of two way exchange, connection and bonding.
“The main thing is that you feel something. For some people it might look spectacular, but in reality it is more about feeling something. Krump is also a spiritual dance, the pioneers who started it were fueled by a kind of spiritual faith in what they were doing, almost an instinctive power and spirit that was pushing them. They tried to identify with this energy and put it in the first place. They put the emotion and the character before every movement. And this exists in every kind of dance, but it could be held back, while in Krump it is mandatory to bring it out, otherwise we lose the essence of Krump.” Grichka, interview with Nora Amin, 16.08.2020
Connecting to the Roots
With this faith, commitment and spirituality, the Krumpers could also seem like connecting to their ancestors. Without any prior decision or choreographic influences, the movement vocabulary spontaneously produced by the krumpers carried visible traces of African physical expressions. It could seem like a natural expression of a transgenerational identity when freed from the restrictions and colonization of the Western forms of dance, yet it has also been viewed as a point of access to the roots, therefore re-connecting via dance – and the personal body – what has been previously disconnected socially and politically.
Connecting to the roots is as well a powerful statement of retrieving the ownership of the body and its history, against the continuous waves of objectification and exoticisation. Hence when analysing and deconstructing the movement vocabulary of Krump, the theme of racism would immediately emerge on its own, as it forms an inherent -and transgenerational- experience within the foundation of this dance form. Part of the dance vocabulary of Krump can be interpreted as “vibrations” of the body, where the resonances of physical memory and experiences could be channeled through the vibes of the movement as if the contracted gestures of a highly tensed body offer the traces of a pained corporality. The hand and arm gestures also form an incredibly rich register of resistance signs, pushing away, or claiming and shaping, while the iconic “Jabs” (short, sharp, staccato movements when the arms extend from the chest outwards and with the same energy pulling it back) re-formulate the breathing movement of the chest into a metaphoric gestures of addressing the outside, and of surviving and thriving.
Krump on Stage
To introduce Krump into the field of stage performance is an attempt to carry on with our collective and human journey towards re-visiting structural discrimination within the dance field. To analyse the differences between what is categorised as street dance and what is categorised as stage dance, and the hierarchy that it creates; to understand the embodiments and historical struggles that initiate new forms of youth dance – like Krump – which become later public statements of identity and of collective survival; to examine how the dancing body can express itself when offered a free horizon of self identification and socio-political positioning; and to reflect on the possibility of decolonising the stage and providing the young audiences -among others- with a space to expand their experiences of physical, intellectual and emotional development via dance forms that are usually kept out of the aesthetic, academic and institutionalised recognition; are all ways to support the growth of the dance field without losing sight of the socio-political power frames within which we operate.
With a background philosophy of resistance, solidarity and identity expression, Krump has a strong ritualistic aspect. The street sessions where the krumpers form a semi-circle, and one-by-one go into the middle and freestyle, follow a ritualistis structure of “liberating”, “passing on”, exchanging, channeling energy, giving back energy and movement, and holding a space of collective holistic presence and expression. Many ritualistic forms across cultures are composed within a circular or semi-circular shape, all of them are performative, yet Krump remains the youngest in these ritualistic performances, and the only one that takes place in the street and as an urban act. This ritualistic aspect can bring a very positive effect onto stage performance, as developing a Krump piece for the stage will definitely carry this spirit towards re-shaping our perception of dance as an embodiment of emotionality, spirituality and resistance.
Within this context, Krump invites everybody to re-understand the dancing body and its potentiality, it invites us to holistically engage while dancing and while perceiving dance, so that we can possibly experience the exercise of temporarily transcending the traditions of discrimination. In this way it would also be possible to experience dance as a powerful medium to rebel against injustice, and to re-build our human community and togetherness, something that is of special importance in the era of Covid 19, while giving to the youth – and to the entire community – an example of the autonomy of thinking and of artistic expressions. Such an example has been acquiring a growing valid in the political sphere around the world, and throughout the protests and
revolutions – since 2010 – that demonstrated impactful action-taking by youth aiming for political – and more recently environmenta l- change, and reversing their traditional categorisation from being “inferior” to being leaders of political, social and cultural change.
A Human Race
When practising Krump a child can transform the powerlessness into an amazing dance where the performativity in itself is empowering back; or remedy the existential fears of growing up via the personal and free expressions of a shared dance; or create a statement of the experiences of being other-ed while enjoying a very personal signature and individual identity. In all those possibilities and in all ages, krumping can be a possibility for making peace with oneself and with the community, hence an opportunity to go beyond the moment of conflict and envision a future from whatever point in age and time.
The practise of Krump can also lead to catharsis, and therefore to healing and transformation, as it releases the inner narratives of each body while aiming for “Liveness” (going higher and above). This “Liveness” could be interpreted as a movement of transcendance, rising, going further, a movement that cannot function without spiritual engagement, nor without holistic connection. In Krump terminology, the Buck and the Krump and the Liveness operate together to go further: character moves/gestures and down to earth feet build up to reach “Liveness”. With this itinerary we reach a universal pattern of movement that connects our being and expands it towards new growth. Almost similar to the pattern of breathing that all human beings – and animals – experience as a movement from in to out, and vice versa, where nobody can only breathe in or only breathe out, Krump creates a pattern of connection and balance between the inner and the outer, and between the roots/earth, the self and its potential growth. This can also be an interesting itinerary for dance to embody the search for balance, unity and humanness from an autonomous perspective, to embody “A Human Race”.
This text was commissioned by TANZKOMPLIZEN – dance for young audiences. The premiere of A HUMAN RACE, a dance piece by Grichka Caruge, produced by TANZKOMPLIZEN, will take place on August 20, 2021 in Podewil Berlin.
About the author:
Nora Amin is a dancer, choreographer, writer and theatre director. Founding member of the Cairo Opera House Modern Dance company, founder and artistic director of Lamusica Independent Theatre Group where she produced and directed forty productions of dance, theatre and music. Founder and artistic director of The nation-wide Project of Theatre of the Oppressed and its Arab network in Lebanon, Sudan and Morocco. Previous S. Fischer guest professor (FU), former Valeska-Gert guest professor for dance sciences MA (FU), former lecturer in Mount Holyoke College (Theatre studies, MA), cultural policy (Hildesheim university), and centre for contemporary dance at the university of Köln. Mentor/expert at LAFT/PAP and Flausen+ Bundesnetzwerk. Board member of the German Centre of the International Theatre Institute and member of the steering group for the Dance Mediation Centre.
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