We’ve been deprived all these years. We’ve never seen Krusty the Clown popping his booty, Ronald McDonald never C-walked, and Bozo … forget about it. He could probably barely do a jig, let alone shake his whole body like an enraged zombie from “28 Days Later.”
Well, the dark ages are over. There’s a group of California clowns doing the thang. We’ve gotten a potent dosage of clown dancing — or krumping, as it’s called — in videos such as Missy Elliott’s “I’m Really Hot” and the Black Eyed Peas “Hey Mama.” Now the ringleader of the crunk circus act says the mainstream had better look out, because he’s bringing more than balloons and giant shoes. The krumping era just may be upon us.
“The clowning and the krumping dance movement, it is a very positive thing because it really does keep kids off the streets,” krumping originator Thomas Johnson, a.k.a. Tommy the Clown, explained in Los Angeles recently. “Kids really don’t have too much to do around here. This is something exciting for them. To Missy and everybody that has grabbed this whole clowning, krumping, hip-hop style of clown dancing, I want to say thank you for putting it on the national scale. You’re doing it.”
“I heard about it through [‘I’m Really Hot’ director] Bryan Barber,” Missy Elliott said. “I knew about — we call it clown dancing — but the krumping already. We was already familiar with the dance, but he told me about the painting [of the faces], ’cause he has cousins that do it. I see people doing the dance, but I’d never seen them painted with it. I thought it would be hot for my video.”
Painting is almost as important to krumping as the dance moves themselves.
“I like to do either a fade or a scenery,” said one of Tommy’s dancers, Rocko, as he made himself up in the mirror. “This would be like a scenery or a picture of a whale jumping outta the water into the sun. A fade would be … different colors just fading into each other. But there’s all types of face paints you could do.”
“It just comes to your head and you try to put it together,” Tommy said. “Basically we try to mix it up. Different faces, different styles. It’s something you gotta do.”
Tommy started clown dancing in Compton in 1992 as a way to entertain at birthday parties he performed at. Tommy eventually started getting his pied piper on, enlisting people from the neighborhood to come perform with him at the functions, dubbing themselves the Hip-Hop Clowns. The dance form eventually evolved into what he calls krumping.
“Krumping is when you’re dancing and your body is doing a lot of different moves,” Tommy explained. “It’s really like you’re fighting on the dance floor. It’s more of an intensity. It can be fast-paced, it can be a lot of moves that are really sharp.”
Word of mouth spread over the years, giving Tommy a chance to build his organization and set up local competitions with the kids, the most prevalent being Tommy the Clown’s Battle Zone, where the kids square off for belts like they do in wrestling. The battling didn’t just stay contained to Tommy-sanctioned events as different painted-face crews started popping up around Cali and facing off.
Many of the inner-city kids who have participated say the dancing has kept them away from some potential pitfalls.
“Me, personally, I like to be around [little] kids, I like to make them happy,” said Rocko, 19, who’s been clown dancing for over three years. “Besides that, it keeps me busy. It gives me something to do. It’s positive. That’s why I do it, pretty much.”
Milk, 17, who appears in the Missy’s “I’m Really Hot” video and has been krumping for a year and half, agrees. “It just keeps us from doing everything negative — staying outta trouble, keeping yourself busy.”
Director/photographer David LaChappelle (‘NSYNC, No Doubt) directed and produced a documentary on the dance craze last year called “Clowns in the Hood,” which was renamed “Krumped” and premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
“Man, it feels really good to be a part of this hip-hop culture movement,” Tommy, the self-appointed “King of Clowns,” beamed. “You would never imagine black hip-hop clowns really doing nothing until I brought it to this world. God allowed me to bring it to this world to where it has become a major movement.”