We Rize: Dancing as Worship and Liberation
A few weeks ago I saw an inspiring and captivating documentary about urban dancers in South Central, L.A., called "Rize". Fellow blogger, Maurice Broaddus has written a thorough review of the film from a social and theological standpoint. My response to his review can be found in the "comments" section. The most memorabe quote for me was when one of the dancers addressed critics of their art form by saying that we're not gangsters or thugs, "we're oppressed." Through dance these young people are "rizing" above the poverty, crime and violence that surrounds them.
RIZE REVIEW by Maurice Broaddus:
“Then maidens will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.” Jeremiah 31:13
Brought to us by director David LaChapelle (the fashion photographer whose contribution to pop culture includes the Christina Aguilera’s "Dirrty" video), Rize is a documentary chronicling the practice of "Clowning" and "Krumping". Odds are that you’ve never heard of either way of dancing, though you may have seen the hyper-kinetic hip-hop dance stylings in videos (the dance is often so frenetic that the film has to assure us that the frames haven’t been sped up).
The movie makes the case that this radical dance form serves an enormous (potential) role in the black communities in South Central Los Angeles. The dancing is important as serious forms of spiritual; and artistic expression, and as an alternative to gang participation.
The movie opens by putting the movement in a historical context, tracing the history of South Central through the Civil Rights era riots and the post-Rodney King verdict riots. It was in response to the 1992 riots that “ghetto celebrity” Tommy Johnson (Tommy the Clown) created what he would call Clowning. Tommy, up until then, had been involved in a life of gang-banging and drug dealing. "Living like that," he says, "you either wind up shot dead or in jail. I was lucky. I wound up in jail." Jail afforded him the opportunity to examine his life as he turned to God asking for another chance to turn his life around. He started his clown group as a way of entertaining at parties, to provide laughs and make people happy. One of his early disciples branched off, developing an alternative style dubbed Krumping (for those keeping score at home, apparently all Clowns “krump”, but not all Krumps “clown”).
The movie builds to the event known as the Battle Zone, an organized competition between clown groups. This speaks to the historical competitive nature of creative expression within the black community (see the rap battles depicted in the movie 8 Mile). This fifth Battle Zone proves so popular that it is held in the Great Western Forum.
“When you’re drowning and you see a board floating by, you’re gonna grab that board.”
The cauldron that this seemingly strange dance form sprung from is the day-to-day inner city life. When presented with a situation of no money, no hope, no justice, and limited educational resources; combined with the daily reality of drugs and violence, pain and anger need an outlet. As the dancers observe, when one grows up on a steady diet of violence, robbing, and dealing, some people “catch a feel for it”. Others look elsewhere for something positive. And, as it has so often before, the outlet comes in the form of music and dance, creating something useful out of what life has handed them.