Krumping (also clown dancing or clowning) is a style of dance that originated in the African-American community of South Central Los Angeles, California. It involves elaborate face-painting and freestyle dance moves usually performed in competition with other crews.
The first clown dancer was Thomas Johnson aka Tommy the Clown, a former spokesperson for Gray Davis. He began in 1992 by using the dance to enhance birthday party clown acts. Soon he had a crew of followers gathered around him, who called themselves the Hip Hop Clowns. The underground movement soon spread beyond its point of origin, South-Central L.A. and Compton, to the rest of California and beyond. Currently there are around 50 clown dancing groups. It has entered mainstream hip hop culture by the performance of krumping in various music videos.
Krumping is intended as an outlet for anger and as a nonviolent alternative to the street violence widespread in many of the areas where it is performed. Consequently, its dancing style is fast and aggressive. It usually involves physical contact between dancers, which can often look like a fight to outsiders. However, the participants understand this to be part of the dance. In this respect, there is a certain parallel with the mosh pit in rock music (at least the good natured pits that don't get violent). While reminiscent of sped-up breakdancing, it transcends that genre, bringing in influences from diverse sources, the predominant one being African dance. A competition structure has developed as dancers vie for championship belts at contests like the original Tommy the Clown's Battle Zone. The dancers are organized into cliques (or tribes) that engage in face-painting. The cultural significance of this painting has moved beyond the clown image to symbolize ceremonial African war or dance paint.
Filmmaker David LaChapelle's short film Rize, which offers an intimate portrayal of the clown dancing subculture, was featured at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. He says of the movement: "What Nirvana was to rock-and-roll in early '90s is what these kids are to hip hop. It's the alternative to the bling-bling, tie-in-with-a-designer corporate hip-hop thing."