Dance Dance Revolution
A Fashion Photographer Captures a Mind-Blowing, Body-Moving Urban Art Form On its Own Terms
Miss Prissy is a very, very, very nice young lady. Sure, it took the hard-working young dancer from South Central Los Angeles a few years to gain the fearless self-confidence to venture into Hollywood and cold audition for parts, but thanks to the support of friends, family, and her church, where she sometimes performs because she likes to give back from whence she came, she now believes that if she believes and works hard she can achieve her dreams. Yes, Miss Prissy is sincerely that breed of heartwarming person. Her sunny, mile-wide smile and cheery dark eyes radiate like perennials in bloom guiding her taut, lithe dancer’s frame, a body so tuned into its movements that every benign gesture and mundane fidget is an understated choreography.
Just don’t think you can dance Miss Prissy off the stage—and we’re not talking ballet or jazz or tap. This little miss goody-two shoes gets gully. Miss Prissy will put on the hoochie-momma denim mini, a supertoned-belly-baring ripped-up jersey, and street-ball high tops over striped knee-highs and bring her considerable game to you. Her graceful hands shoo away young women booty-shaking stripper moves. Miss Prissy tosses her head and rolls her eyes at the shoulder pops and torso snaking that prolly came straight from a hip-hop video. Puhlease. Just you wait. Because when Miss Prissy gets going, the other woman knows she’s about to be schooled. Miss Prissy stares down any wannabe contender like a lioness picking an antelope, slowly pacing the dance floor waiting to strike. She’ll yank the ribbons from her hair and toss them to the floor. And then she’ll walk straight at any would-be contender, stop just inside a good punch’s distance away, hit a feet-apart, knees-bent, ass-out posture not found in any dance position manual, throw her arms into ferocious loops that you suspect might send her into flight, and flail her hips with enough jittery torque to beat egg whites into meringue.
The unfettered beauty of David LaChapelle’s documentary Rize isn’t that it presents both sides of Miss Prissy, as well as a small army of African-American, urban dancers who, quite simply, tear shit up with the athletically thermonuclear dance style called krump. It’s that Rize argues with convincing ecstasy that this hypnotically arresting, sometimes physically intimidating dance is the bedrock rooting everything else positive in their lives. Watts, East L.A., Compton, Long Beach, Ingleside—these are parts of Los Angeles that don’t offer young people many options. Dance academies and performance studios don’t exist, and choices for after-school activities often reduce to gangs and death or this ghetto ballet. No krump, no future.
Best known for his brightly outlandish, decadently stylistic take on the celebrity portrait and fashion shoot, music video (J. Lo’s “I’m Glad,” Britney Spears’ “Everytime”), and TV commercial (that odd Darius Rucker Burger King spot), LaChapelle wisely stays completely out of the way of the dancers. Rize is a South Central story, a tone set immediately as it opens with newsreel footage of the 1965 Watts riots and the 1992 Rodney King riots. Krumping rises out of these ashes, its ground zero a man named Tommy who started putting on makeup, dressing as a clown, and dancing to hip-hop at neighborhood birthday parties in 1992.
Very soon Tommy has young neighborhood kids wanting to work and dance with him and he’s forming Tommy’s Hip-Hop Clown Academy; other dance groups spring up all over South Central. And at night in playgrounds, basketball courts, and other open urban spaces, young people with painted faces gather to krump, bodies and limbs moving at seemingly inhuman speeds through the air.
Rize settles into breathtaking crosscutting between interviews with Tommy and various dancers—Larry, Lil Tommy, Miss Prissy, Lil C, Tight Eyez, El Nino, Swoop, and their families—and dance footage from the night gatherings, in practice spaces, around the house, and a very few staged portions set on the beach or in aqueducts where LaChapelle sears the screen with his signature hot color-keyed visions. Not that krumping needs such a volume pegging to come alive: These young people do things that blow minds, and Rize culminates in the annual BattleZone dance off, pitting groups against each other for bragging rights, the most exciting, adrenaline-pumping competition you will see all year.
It’s easy to feel somewhat weird about a high-priced white fashion photographer bringing you inner-city black culture, but LaChapelle doesn’t flinch from hardship or flirt with the maudlin, and he lets the dancers and dancing do the rest. And by its close, Rize isn’t just a great movie about krumping, it’s one of the best movies about any urban-born street art—hip-hop, graffiti, etc.—ever made.