Though all dance styles are welcome at the 818 Session, the spotlight is on krump, a dance form created circa 2002 in South Central Los Angeles. Dave LaChapelle's 2005 documentary "Rize" introduced mainstream audiences to krump and clown dancing -- the latter adds face paint and costumes and has since subsided in popularity. Krump, however, has managed to gain momentum worldwide.
The economic and social conditions of South Central Los Angeles at the turn of the 21st century contributed to the brewing of repressed emotions and explosive atmosphere that birthed the essence of krump: a defiant attitude, extreme movement, and intense release.
Moving locations from its origins in South Central L.A., the 818 calls North Hollywood home (the session is named after its area code). As B-boy, a former breaker and one of the founders of the 818, explains, a dance community already existed in and near NoHo, which supports the circle: Debbie Reynolds Dance Studios, Millennium Dance Complex, and Evolution Dance Studios are all located in the area. The existence of these studios as well as the relative niceness of the neighborhood makes NoHo a present-day mecca of krump.
"There are no gang bangers out here," assures Krucial, a sweet-faced, tough-bodied 2010 college graduate and amiable, welcoming session host. "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."
As the mainstream faces of krump and two of the dance's founders, Lil' C ("So You Think You Can Dance," "Rize") and Miss Prissy ("Rize," Snoop Dogg, Madonna) lend the ultimate legitimacy to 818 by showing up each week. She often pulls people aside for one-on-one conversations about opportunities or issues of concern in the community and calms the flaring tempers of agitated krumpers. Lil' C opens the door of his car under a bright light so his stereo speakers can serve as the sound system. He also monitors the amount of space within the circle, asking people to "open it up" when the session shrinks. The validation works both ways.
Soon after krump dancing's popularity had peaked, many of the dancers lost sight of the heart of krumping. Battling, not brother(sister)hood, moved to the center of the session.
"The essence of krump is built on family and trial and tribulation," says Miss Prissy. "We would dance and session and battle each other and after that have dinner together. But because by the time it got to the masses it was starting to look like a fad. People started to put their own twist on krump. 'Well, krump for me is being better than everybody and being the best' [she says as if imitating someone]. It was never about that. A lot of people forgot the essence of krump. Krump wasn't based on battling. Krump wasn't based on self-gratification, on being the winner, the champion."
"Now you battle somebody and lose and somebody wants to fight you," she questions. "What happened? This is why we didn't join gangs."
Fortunately now, seven years after "Rize," people are starting to remember. Every once in a while a battle breaks out. But as Prissy sees it, krumping has come full circle.
"Krump was based on a dream that we all had," she says. "That's all it was. Because all of the kids dream about being on television, about getting out of their backyards, about one day waking up and your lights not being cut off. Now when I go to the 818, I see it now. It's not battles. Everybody's just dancing. The energy is so good. You're dancing out there till 4 a.m. You just feel so good and refreshing. And after we're done everybody goes and eats. It feels like it's happening all over again. It feels like it's on its second wind."
All photos by Dan Carino.
Jessica Koslow is currently pursuing a master's in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism writing her thesis on krumping. Don't miss her video on the 818 Session krump dancers.