CN D Magazine

#3 jun 23

Krump, the Explosive Dance Sweeping Across Global Stages

Copélia Mainardi

Krump workshop led by Lady MadSkillz, Camping 2022, CN D - Centre national de la danse. Photo Marc Domage

Born in Californian ghettos over 20 years ago, krump is known for its explosive, staccato movements, which require an ability to master one’s emotions while simultaneously favoring self-expression. This urban dance has now taken over institutional stages in France, where programmers are drawn to its creative power.

Los Angeles, 1990s. Gang wars and race riots are part of daily life in suburban areas, and Thomas Johnson, aka “Tommy the Clown,” decides to bring a little joy to neighborhood kids by introducing them to non-violent, liberating forms of physical expression. His “clown dancing” morphed into krump, a raw and tense urban language; a dance where rage is transformed, which allows dancers to both recenter and continuously challenge themselves, through powerful and emotional movement. 

In 2005, the photographer and director David Lachapelle narrated the early history of krump in the documentary Rize, whose success was instrumental in bringing krump international visibility. The form then took France by storm. “Krump is a lifestyle where community plays an essential role, rather than a practice or a particular technique,” says the choreographer and performer Nach. “To understand what is at stake in it politically, and how it allows dancers to reclaim their bodies, one needs to take the collective into account, to understand how krump groups write their own stories.” For the krump performer Amandine Tshijanu Ngindu (aka Mamu Tshi), the central role of community is connected to the origins of krump, which was born in underprivileged communities, who rebelled against the unfairness of the system. “Krump strives to create a form of communion, where pain and suffering are shared. ‘Session,’ ‘circle,’ ‘training’: all the rituals and codes of krump are organized around the necessity to create an alternative family… inside or outside society.”

The name “krump” is said to come from a 1990s song; young dancers then turned it into an acronym, “Kingdom Radically Uplifted Mighty Praise.” “But it’s really the individual who is uplifted,” says Nach. “In certain ecstatic moments, the body is so exhausted that it detaches from its earthly form to reach another level.” For Mamu Tshi, this spiritual dimension makes the dance almost mystical: “I see in krump a desire to communicate with God, the cosmos, the beyond, whatever it means. It’s a vertical alignment: not a trance but a sort of centering, gathering inside oneself.” While it is codified, krump acts as an outlet and makes it possible to simultaneously control movement and let go. “It’s two sides of the same coin,” says Mamu Tshi. “This ambivalence is essential in krump.”

In twenty years or so, krump has evolved, and so has its reception. In 2017, the visual and video artist Clément Cogitore filmed the “Dance of the Peace Pipe” from Les Indes Galantes as a krump battle for the Paris Opera’s free “3rd Stage” digital platform, with choreography by Bintou Dembélé, Grichka and Brahim Rachiki. Two years later, his epic staging of Rameau’s complete opera-ballet, with Dembélé as choreographer, brought two clashing worlds into contact, on an aesthetic and political level: thirty urban dancers (trained in krump, hip-hop, waacking, electro, flexing, voguing) revisited Les Indes Galantes alongside opera singers. On the prestigious Bastille stage of the Paris Opera, krump appeared to have completed its trajectory from the margins to the center. Audiences have embraced its unique moves, from stomps and chest pops to arm swings and buck faces.

Traditional and social media have taken notice, and dance institutions are following suit. This year, Paris’s La Villette presented a piece by Nach, They Say (Elles disent), after hosting her for a residency the previous summer. In July, the 77th edition of the Avignon Festival will open with a new piece by Dembélé, a three-hour exploration named G.R.O.O.V.E. “But bringing krump to publicly funded stages isn’t everything,” says Nach. “What matters is knowing what we want to show, because collaborating with other artists means bearing the responsibility of defining krump and how it will be perceived.”

Could krump’s newfound legitimacy threaten its authenticity? “This question is mostly asked by institutions,” Mamu Tshi says with a smile. “If some artists feel the need to translate their work to the stage, good for them! But I don’t think there’s anything to fear: krump remains a street dance, it will never need the stage to exist.” For Mamu Tshi, the attraction exerted by the effervescent atmosphere of krump also has to do with the rebellious mood of the times, as Europe and other regions of the world face numerous strikes and protests. All the more reason to believe in the bright future of krump.

Copélia Mainardi is a journalist. She has worked as an investigative reporter with various newspapers such as Le Monde diplomatique, Libération or L’Express. After studying literature in college, she worked at France Culture, for the TV show “28 minutes” on Arte and on the culture desk of the magazine Marianne. She specializes in culture coverage, especially photography and theatre, and has written reviews for magazines including Trois Couleurs and Blind.

choreography Bintou Dembélé
from 5.07 to 10.07.23
Festival d’Avignon

Mamu Tshi