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Rize: An Interview with Dragon, Tight Eyes, and Lil C

Rize: An Interview with Dragon, Tight Eyes, and Lil C

By Wilson Morales

Coming to the Tribeca Film Festival is a documentary about a dance craze that is catching attention nationwide. In 1992 after the Rodney King beating in LA when life was looking bleak for anyone walking in the streets, Tommy Johnson started a dance style to show aggression and expression. He took on the moniker of "Tommy the Clown" with his face painted and his happy smile and started a pied piper movement where kids where emulating his dance style and having fun. His dance was known as Clowning and it became another approach of staying out of harm's way from drugs and violence. As more kids started doing this, another group of dancers were forming their version called Krumping. There two groups would seek each other out on different occasions and battle it out wherever there were. Film by acclaimed photographer David LaChappelle, "Rize" is the story of clown and krump dancing in South Central Los Angeles and how the community has embraced it as a sign of hope for the neighborhood and a peaceful life outside of violence. In speaking with blackfilm.com, three members of the Krumps (Dragon, Tight Eyes, and Lil C), spoke about their roles in their groups and why they love dancing.

How did you get into this?

Dragon: What happened is that Tommy the clown started a dance craze with the clown movement. He was the original hip-hop clown and he ended up recruiting younger kids to be in the group with him so that they can perform. It had caught on and became a trend in that all over Los Angeles there were different clown groups popping up. I joined the clown group myself and started competing. I would go around to different birthday parties and clubs wherever I would run into different clowns. It wasn't a gang thing but a dance competition. Through this I met Lil Ceasar and the rest of the crew. During that time, I wasn't with Tommy's crew, they were. Through some circumstances, they ended up leaving Tommy, and upon that I hooked up with them and from that started Krump dancing. It had started beforehand. They had danced too agrresive to be clown dancing. With a few other folks, the Krump movement evolved.

Lil C, how did you started?

Lil C: I am one of the creators. We didn't have to go about and get taught because we actually created the foundation.


Lil C: I think it was a little bit intuitive and instinctive more so than planned. It's not like we sat down and said, "Hey we are going to create a dance style and what not." It just sort of happened and fell into place. It was something that was in our blood. It's like when you have dormant sales in your blood; something ignites them to be awaken. I think it was the style within us; just sitting there and it woke up. Like a volcano, it finally exploded.

Creating a dance is one thing, but keeping it up is another. What are the challenges to keeping Krump dancing steady and having it be taken seriously?

Lil C: Creating it could be looked at as the hard part, but once you get the motor running, it's self-preservation to preserve itself. It catches on and spreads so far and so fast that all we had to do was make the initial key turn and it runs by itself. We just have to go and do maintenance every now and then. It's so positive that the positivity of it is what keeps it going. The fact that it has a strong background base spiritually around it is what keeps it moving. So people catch on to it because it's positive and it's a lot of people's new favorite past time. The creation of it gives a lot of people another route in life to do sort of speak. That's also a form of getting your aggression out and what not. It bears nothing but positive characteristics so that's what keeps it going.

Tight-Eyes, how did you become a part of all this?

Tight-Eyes: I'm one of the creators and founders of Krump myself. It really stemmed from me, Lil C, and a few others because the dancing style was always different with us. Even with us in the clowning world, we were always rough and more on the edge than everybody else so after we left the clowning world, it was like a natural instinct. We started on our own and it was like a no holds barred situation. We were censored so we decided to be uncensored when we left Tommy. We didn't have a set of group. We used to go around and dance for different groups. We didn't have a set group because we wanted to spread it as far as we can.

What separates the Krump dancing from Tommy's clown dancing?

Tight-Eyes: Clowning is more about making the kids smile and be happy and Krump is about making people happy but it's more of an in-your-face raw action that the older people can enjoy. It's the uncovered side. Clowning is about smiles and face painting, and happy balloons. Krump doesn't do that. It's a warrior feel to that.

Have you taken Krump dancing further than California? How far do you want to see this craze go?

Tight-Eyes: Nationwide. It's spreading to Korea, Japan, Amsterdam, and it's all around LA. We've been in LA for four years and it's now getting out so I believe it will go nationwide once people see the film.

As the creators, how often do you practice and come up with new styles?

Lil C: As the creators, we know what's new because we have done everything there is possible to do with your body except for flip around and glide on air. We practice everyday but it's natural when you're out there everyday. Sometimes the stuff you practice doesn't come out the way you want it when you are in the midst of a sessions because you have brought yourself in something new. Some people are strong and precise and some are lazy and grimy and rough. Everyone has their own different style. You know what's new because you recognize your new body movement when you are feeling it. When you feel something different is when you know you have a new different style. Nobody can put out anything new that we haven't seen before so I think we are the only ones that can create something new that will stick. Other people try to create something new all the time but it never last.

Can you make this form of dancing a career?

Tight-Eyes: I wouldn't look at it as a career because I love doing this so I look at it like I have been doing for the past four years. My mom comes to Krump sessions. With her hair not done and babies on our lap, she's at the Krump sessions. She's screaming just like everyone else. When I first started doing dancing, people were asking what I was doing. "You're not going anyone with that. You look like you are having a seizure." They weren't believing this at first but then after they saw how it was catching on and how strongly I felt about it and kept pushing at it, they decided to jump in and support me. You have some mommas that get Krumped.

Dragon: I came into the group a little later but before that I had look up to them in the dance world. I wanted to be around them. I wasn't the best one in my group and I want an entertainer so I was like an outcast with the group I used to dance for. I went to learn what these guys were doing and in that I develop my own style. I fit in with these guys. I turned to doing this from the clown dancing and my mom was asking me what was I going to do with my life and I told her that this is it because I believe in it. In that she saw that this wasn't any phase or fad and that I was serious. She almost kicked me out when she saw that this was entire focus and that changed her mindset. Now, she loves it. She now gets involved with this as opposed to just looking at me perform.

Lil C: It stems as far as the comprehension of the movement itself. People tend to want to be behind it and back it when they can understand it. Sometimes it's like a monkey see and monkey do type thing. We've been doing thing for a long thing and most rejected it but it takes someone of social stature to be involved once they see the importance of it. This is positive and that's what fueling these kids to create this and remain positive when there's nothing positive going on. Instead of having sympathy, they can empathize with us. They can feel with, instead of feel for. My mom had to realize this as well because we go through problems everyday like everyone goes through problems everyday. It's a different way of dealing with it. Like she stated in the film, kids today have a different way of anxieties. When they recognize how you deal with it, they start to grasp the subject more.

How many members participate in Krump dancing?

Lil C: Hundreds.

How do you stay in the game? Does anyone's game ever fall off?

Tight-Eyes: Yes, all the time. People are always challenging us, so we definitely have to stay on top of our game. Because we started this form of dancing, that gives them more courage to test us.

Is there respect amongst the Krumps and the Clowns?

Lil C: Yes, there's respect, but once we hit the battlefield, it different.

Have you lost members to the Clowns?

Tight-Eyes: Yes, if people come to Krump and don't get the spot that they want, they go back to Clowning. It goes back and forth.

Did you ever resist the filming of your personal lives?

Lil C: No, not at all because it's not an embarrassment to us. We welcome anyone to our testimony because we are some innocent kids walking around with a stereotype on our shoulders being bowed down to whatever problems and issues we have. We are victorious in our situations. I want people to know what I went through. I take my life as an encouragement instead of a burden.

What's the message you want people to walk away with once they have seen the film?

Tight-Eyes: The message we want people to know is that the only thing that has sustained us is that the gift of dancing comes from God and we worship him in our dance and he is the main reason why we came out. Your blessings lay inside of you no matter where you are at in life. You could be homeless and have a bunch of gifts inside of you. I want to people to know that they need to be more in contact with God because that's what they are missing.

RIZE opens on June 24th, 2005.


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