28 October 2007
Tonight we watched a documentary from 2005, Rize. I've wanted to see this film since I first saw a trailer for it. Like Scratch and Dogtown and Z-Boys, Rize promised a window into a world that simply does not include me, and I find that intriguing. The intriguing aspect is not that it doesn't include me, lots of things don't include me. But that it's a world that so removed from my own that I almost cannot understand the explanations given, in plain English, of what's going on, and why. Director David LaChapelle visits the camera on many people, most of them younger than 30, and a few older relatives (mostly mothers, fathers were conspicuously absent), as they participated in and talked about their passion for dance.
The basic idea is that, in the ghetto neighborhoods of south Los Angeles, there is an alternative to gangs. There is an alternative to living in fear, surrounded by the symptoms and manifestations of disadvantage. There is an alternative to spiritual poverty. That alternative is a dance form that is as rhythm-bound as any tribal ceremony in the world, as formalized as any ballet, as expressive as any Noh performance, and as nakedly driven as any rave in the world. The director repeatedly likens it to African tribal movements, but there was so much more to it. The whole range is there, from the stripper's booty bounce, to the astonishing elegance of an elite martial arts exhibition. Clowning and krumping, it's called, and for reasons that are more obvious and also more inexplicable that you'd guess. More than *I* would have guessed, and I have seen the explanation! It does, in fact, involve clown-style face painting and rainbow wigs.
Perhaps what fascinates me most about the world of clowning and krumping is that this is a physical rebuttal to the harsh realities. No less real, and in many ways, no less harsh. Shouting back at the world. It is pretty clear that the young people involved in the dance want outsiders to understand, but are glad to have their mystique, too. They like the fact that you wouldn't understand, that you can't relate to it; that's OK, it's not for you. They want to be recognized as athletes, as artists, as positive forces in their world, but also, they like their position on the outside of the outside. It's one thing to be marginalized by someone else's mainstream, it's something else to choose to step away from the margin, into an abyss of your own choosing. More powerful yet, to discover there is solid ground to be had there.
Maybe I will never understand, really, what it all means. Hell, I'm technically a part of the mainstream that those dancers are twice removed from. But it's strengthening, to see that there is something beyond the light outside the cave entrance.