March 14 Session

Good newz! There were a lot of people at the session tonight — and it was still early. The energy was especially good for two reasons as I would soon find out. First, J.Bad was back. He is a member of the Newz Family, “the first Hispanic crew to be out there like that,” Manny Fernandez, aka Lil Newz, once told me. J.Bad, aka Junior Newz, had been arrested for not being a U.S. citizen while being stopped for something else. The 818 had a fundraiser back in January to help pay for some of his legal fees. And here he was, back at the session, wanting — needing — to dance. I became very emotional seeing him there, even more so when he danced. He was back home.

I dedicate this post to the Newz Family. Bad Newz, the lead member, was there. He danced a few times. After J.Bad went away, he came to the circle two weeks in a row asking for donations. “What if they took this session away from you?” he asked, his voice cracking. “Something you loved to do … He’s like family.”

Lil Newz, aka Manny, danced. He always does — with a lot of heart. He was hit by a car in 2010, broke his leg and got a concussion. Three months later he was back at the session. In a wheelchair at first, then on crutches. People have told me he krumped with his arms while sitting, then with one leg and one arm while on crutches.

The second reason the energy was so good tonight is that Miss Prissy brought a friend from her New York trip back with her. His name is Storyboard, and I think he said his style is mutation. He was amazing. He seemed to lack a skeletal structure the way he swerved and bent, and his muscular control was impeccable as he tilted his upper half backward to the ground and slowly crept up again. Effortless. He told me that he was trying to get the vibe of krump and this circle. He had his own session in New York, but he wanted to branch out. At some point in the night, he told me he thought he was starting to understand the 818 — the emotion, the movement, the attitude. There were no rules. He just wanted to contribute.

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March 7 Session

Photo by Francesco Belvedere

It was cold tonight. As I pulled into the Ralph’s parking lot, I didn’t see a single person in any of the usual spots. Then I saw a crowd in front of the Chase bank. I have often imagined what a powerful statement it would make if the dancers krumped in front of the Chase bank. And now it was happening.

The session began soon after we arrived. And then the iPod died. I’m not sure exactly what happened. Technical difficulties was all I heard the owner of the car whisper. There was silence for about 20-30 minutes. It was cold so every minute felt like eternity. Everybody was ancy to dance. One guy even pleaded with the small crowd if anyone had a car to volunteer for the krump cause.

Finally, someone drove up and had a CD player in their car. This was unusual because the routine is that someone just plugs their iPod into the car stereo. This was very low-tech, but nobody complained too much. People were happy there was music.

The session started up again. Big Mijo was there. The energy is always more amplified when he’s there. He is one of the founders of krump, and he gets much respect. After he danced Creez, a young krumper, looked at me, and asked, “Did you see Mijo dance?” Then he proclaimed him the best while making all sorts of pleased and excited facial expressions.

The kid in the picture above danced. He’s one of the wildest I’ve seen. His krump moves are often punctuated by yells of approval and awe from the crowd. I don’t know his name yet. And this picture was taken on a different night. He’s a regular.

Uni, one of the founders of the 818, danced. He always does. People love him. He got major love tonight, ooohhhs and ahhhs from the crowd. The reactions ranged from “Damn” to “What you saying?” to “Where you at, Uni?” All familiar krump calls.

Mijo danced again. Then Lil’ C arrived. He jumped in the session, and when he finished I heard him say, “That was just practice.”

Two kids from Spain were at the session. There usually are a few people from a foreign country each week. These guys weren’t first-timers. They had come last week too. You could tell they wanted to krump. They kept moving their bodies to the beat and air krumping, but they never entered the circle, at least not while I was there. Maybe next week.

February 22 Session

Tonight was bananas. For many reasons (known only to insiders, not to me), you could feel the excitement in the air. (Corny phrase, I know.) Miss Prissy, Lil’ C and Mijo were there, three of the founders of krump. Tempers were flaring. I caught wind on Facebook of tension between krump crews, and I wondered if I would see some heated battles tonight. I did not see any. But what I did see was Miss Prissy, Lil’ C and Mijo inspired and amped.

I also saw Larry the Clown. For those who have seen Rize, there is a scene where Tommy the Clown and Larry are sitting on a bed dissing krump. Making fun of it. It is icey cold. And here is Larry the Clown (below, in the black shirt with neon colored designs) at the 818 Session, enjoying himself, encouraging others.

I asked Krucial, a female krumper, if that was Larry. She confirmed it was, and told me he was cool with everybody. “They all come around,” she said. You just feel krump. You can’t not.

February 15 Session

Not too many people at the session tonight. A little more than a handful. But they still got off.

Krumpers dance for themselves.

Krumpers dance for themselves./Photo Francesco Belvedere

One time each. A few of my favorites were there — Creez and Worm.

I don’t think it was my first time seeing Unknown, but now I know his name, and I like him too.

Chris, aka Unknown/Photo Francesco Belvedere

I asked Worm about dancing in the parking lot at night, and if it were “easier” than dancing in a studio. He assured me that he could dance anywhere, but “this is my home,” he said. “It’s easier for me to feed off the street energy. ” He also said he feeds off the energy of the spectators. He told me dancing here is more heartfelt. “Vampires, werewolves, zombies, superheroes, alter egos come out at night.”

Worm/Photo Francesco Belvedere

When I asked Creez about dancing in the parking lot, he told me, “Krump came from the streets. We are street cats from the hood — South Central, Inglewood, Watts, Compton.” We could be anywhere, he told me. “But we’re out here doing something positive. Krump versus everything,” he declared.

Unknown, aka Chris, emphasized that krump originated in a rough neighborhood, and now here they are performing in a safe environment. He seemed proud of that fact.

Before Zuccotti Park…

Around 2:15 a.m. a police car rolls up flashing its siren. The North Hollywood Ralphs parking lot is empty. Except for a few fast-food stops, the shops are closed. About a dozen silhouettes are gathered under a bright lamp in a circle. A parked car blasts hip-hop music. Some of the spectators nod their heads to the beat, chest popping and foot stomping, waiting for a turn in the center.

The police car slowly approaches, then stops. It beams a spotlight in the group’s direction. Catching sight of the cops, a young man pushes the circle open into a half moon, giving them an unobstructed view.

“Let them see we’re just dancing,” he says. As the people part, a lone male krumper jumps into view. Ignoring the cops, the dancer throws his arms to the sky, hops on one knee and bounces to his feet.

“Show them how you roll, Lil’ C,” someone from the circle yells.

If they recognize the soloist, the cops don’t make it obvious. Lil’ C was one of the stars of Dave LaChapelle’s 2005 documentary Rize, and is seen on TV as a guest judge on FOX’s “So You Think You Can Dance.” Just following orders, the cops are determined to shut down the 818 Session, named after its area code. An officer shouts to the crowd through his megaphone that he has received noise complaints.

Lil’ C still doesn’t stop.

He hits his elbow with his knee, swings both arms alternately through his legs, tilts forward and steps back. Eventually, he plants his last foot stomp and walks off into the already dispersing crowd.

“When we dance, the dance is in warrior movement, so we look like we’re fighting,” says Laila V., a female krumper. “When they see a bunch of African Americans or just a bunch of kids getting together and moving the way that they won’t understand, they’re going to automatically think something is not right. They don’t understand it.”

Lil’ C challenges the logic: “If you see that we’re not doing anything at all that merits you taking us down to the station, then why are you pestering us? I know there’s some sort of robbery going on. There’s some sort of 211 going on; some 187 that just took place. You need to be handling that. Not this over here, because we’re not doing anything. But when they come, we’re used to it. We got backup session spots. We shift it around.”

The 818 Session/Photo by Dan Carino

The 818 Session takes place every Wednesday around midnight in the massive parking lot on the corner of Magnolia Boulevard and Vineland Avenue in North Hollywood. It has become a ritual for the dancers that show up each week. It’s neutral ground, a safe space far from krump dancing’s birthplace in South Los Angeles. Many of the dancers travel from far away to get here. Others, many of the founders of krump, have permanently relocated to North Hollywood from South L.A.

“There are no gang bangers out here,” assures Krucial, another female dancer. “There’s no real violence. It’s the 818, Valley, Hollywood, North Hollywood-type of style. Everybody can meet here. At the 818, it’s not just one group of people that meet here. It’s this group from Compton, this group from Inglewood, that group from Watts, this group from Hollywood. It’s the meeting ground so people can feel like they’re not on one particular side.”

Late-night in the Ralphs parking lot/Photo by Dan Carino

Before Occupy Wall Street set up in Zuccotti Park, these krump dancers were taking over the Ralphs parking lot to assert their humanity. The 818 Session reimagines the use of this public space, which was created to facilitate capital and commerce, and transforms it into an opportunity for creative expression, emotional release and community building. The dancers, for a variety of reasons, including lack of money and available free community space, do not have a more formal meeting place. This weekly performance ritual allows this dance community to gather and express themselves on open, safe ground.

Public space is scarce, and more of it is being privatized each day, which means more of it exists for the haves and less can be used for community interaction and play. Krump and the space in which it is performed facilitate cross-cultural exposure, understanding and the sharing of ideas, and ultimately, has helped grow a South L.A. street dance style into a global phenomenon. Celebrating its 10th anniversary, krump has spilled into public spaces, reaffirming the needs of a multicultural city’s residents to express, bond and interact in safe public space, which is rapidly disappearing.

More images by Dan Carino

Article and re-edited video on KCET.org

Ralphs parking lot in the daytime

When I was filming my mini-doc about the 818 Session, I shot footage of the Ralphs parking lot in North Hollywood during the day. I never thought that this would be an interesting juxtaposition of images (day versus night) until Matthew Lahey at the Annenberg Lab commented to me how fascinating it was to him when places (often public) are used for unconventional purposes — and not too many people know about it. Like krump dancing in a parking lot at midnight. Below is footage of what the lot looks like during an average day, the people that frequent the stores and the businesses when they’re open. This also better illustates how these dancers are reimagining public space designated for shopping — transforming space used for commerce into a temporary home for creative movement and expression.

Special location filming thanks to Josephine Basch

January 25 Session

This was the first night I drove out to NoHo alone. I parked in my usual spot and took a panorama shot of the Ralphs parking lot.

Next, I shot a sign that sets up this scene nicely (Is dancing loitering?), and walked over to where the session would be happening tonight.

Every week the circle starts in a different location. Tonight, everyone gathered directly in front of the Carl’s Jr., which meant that most likely the dancing would begin in the same spot.

The highlights of the night were seeing Oldz Kool and a girl who I have seen at the circle, but never seen dance, both krump. Oldz Kool is an older guy, hence the nickname, and he’s white. He sticks out. He is well known by everybody, and I have often heard people speak highly of his skills. He shared with me that when he krumps he feels like he’s 15 again. It’s a “complete expression of me,” he said. When he gets into the circle, he feels gigantic — his fingers feel like they extend beyond the tips and every part of his body feels larger. He saw the film Rize, bought some Krump Kings DVDs, and then visited their site’s forums, where he found out about the 818. He practiced for two and a half years before he mustered the courage to enter the circle. This is my second time seeing him krump. The audience, or those who have never seen him dance, is skeptical at first, but he soon warms everyone over.

It’s inspiring when girls enter the circle. Of all of my visits, I have seen only six women krump — and dozens of men. This girl, who I later found out is named Kobrah, is my seventh. She is really talented, and I can tell by her moves that she is a dancer. She holds graceful poses, especially that one on her tiptoes, a la MJ.

Introduction to The 818 Session

The 818 Session is a krump circle that takes place every Wednesday at midnight in a Ralphs parking lot in North Hollywood. It is the subject of my thesis, and the focus of my L.A. Story Project for JOUR 599 with Sasha Anawalt. For this specific project, I will be looking at the ways these dancers reimagine public space for alternative, creative purposes. Seen by some as a form of protest, the dancers (mostly black and Latino youth) perform and release in and occupy a space that is designated to promote capitalism and commerce. Over the next few months, I will post content journaling my time at the sessions, making observations, and hopefully, raising issues of interest to a broad range of people.

Below is a 15-minute documentary that my classmate and I made last semester, which serves as an introduction to the 818.

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