Dancing in the Suburbs of Hell

The dark side of the force is playing at a theater near you.

I don’t mean The Revenge of the Sith. I mean Rize.

You may not have heard of Rize. It is one of those rare films that makes it from Robert Redford’s Sundance Festival to the theater chains. There is no doubt in my mind that it deserved to make the transition. But I don’t think it will be on the big screen for long. The audience is too limited.

Rize is a documentary. Its topic: a dance craze that has swept through South Central Los Angeles and the border city of Inglewood. It may soon spread to your city. You had better hope it doesn’t.

Take a look at the preview of coming attractions. I assure you, this is a cleaned-up version for white audiences, meaning “general” audiences. When you see the preview, think about which segment of white society is being targeted: teenagers. What you are about to see would not separate you from $8.50, plus the price of a box of popcorn.

Yet from the point of view of physiology, the dancing you are about to see is astounding. “How do they do this?” The preview, like the movie, begins with an on-screen message:

The images of this film have not been sped up in any way.

See for yourself.


What I saw on-screen, I could barely believe. The speed of the dancers, especially the flailing arms, looks like a camera trick. But when I shifted my eyes from the dancers to the crowds of onlookers, I saw no evidence of tampering: no speeded-up motions that were the mainstay of silent film slapstick comedies. This was not the Keystone Cops.

The movie’s introduction begins with film extracts of the 1965 Watts riot. Next, it moves to films of the 1992 Rodney King riot. We are shown burned-out neighborhoods. This establishes the unstated background theme of the movie: the burned-out lives of the residents.

As the camera surveyed the community today, I paid attention to the real estate. With very few exceptions, the homes looked like clean, middle-class dwellings. No one mentions that the selling price of one of these houses is in the range of $600,000. You can verify this. Go to www.realtor.com. Put in the zip code for Watts: 90003. There are about 150 homes for sale: 15 screens. I went to screen 7: the median.

In the aftermath of the 1992 Rodney King riot, a man identified on-screen as Tommy the Clown began dressing up as a clown. He is the central figure in the documentary. He makes a living doing birthday parties for small children.

As he says, he had been a drug-pusher and had served time in prison. By adopting the clown’s image and by entertaining small children, he was able to escape from a lifestyle that was leading to evil. He was forthright about this.

So far, so good. But as part of his birthday parties, Tommy began to dance. His form of dancing became popular. Teenagers got involved. They also dressed up as clowns. They painted their faces. They danced. Word spread. By the time of the filming of the movie in 2003, there were 50 clown groups in the area.

I call them the light side of the force.

Two forms of dancing evolved as spin-offs of clown dancing: stripper dancing and krump dancing. The movie is basically the story of the rivalry between the krump dancers and the clown dancers.

Stripper dancing is just what it sounds like, but without the poles. It is lascivious. It is done mainly with the hips. It begins for the girls at about age 4 or 5. The bodily motions are shocking enough, but when you see pre-teens doing this, you know what this “art form” is about: the seduction of the innocent. It begins early.

The movie paints a positive picture of all this. The dancers are not in the gangs. The gangs generally leave the dancers alone. There is no turf war involved. There is something to be said the cover provided by birthday parties for pre-teens.

Surface appearances are deceiving. The faces of the krump dancers reveal a different picture. The hatred is visible. One of the dancers said, “It’s like taking out your anger on the dance floor.” He understated it. The word “like” does not belong in the sentence.

What we see on screen is an artistic affirmation of violence. This violence escalates as the movie advances to the showdown: a contest called the BattleZone. Actually, it is BattleZone V. The violence of the dance floor was not confined to the dance floor, as Tommy the Clown learned before the evening was over.

You might think, “Oh, well: a bunch of kids getting together in a school playground to have a good time.” Instead, what you see is a social phenomenon. BattleZone V was held at the Forum, where the Lakers used to play. The arena is not quite filled, but it’s close. If you consider that thousands of fans are standing on the arena’s floor, the number of attendees was probably comparable to a sold-out Lakers game.

I grew up in the area. In my senior year in high school, I attended the Los Angeles City finals in basketball and football. There were probably fewer attendees at those events in 1959 than there were at Battlezone V. This was not some peripheral event in the ghetto.

Somebody paid to rent the Forum. I don’t think it was Tommy the Clown. If it was the producer of Rize, he knew he had a winner before he wrote the check. You don’t draw a crowd that big with home-made posters.


The continuing theme of this movie is that life in the ghetto of South Central Los Angeles is generally without hope. It is one long experience of drugs, gangs, and random murders. One of the girls in the contest, age 13, was soon shot down on the street. The killers were just driving by, shooting anyone they saw. They killed her and the teenage boy with her.

Just before this revelation, one of the teenagers being interviewed said, “I live in Inglewood. It’s not safe on the streets. You don’t know if you’re going to get shot.”

Sixty years ago, my family bought a tiny house in Inglewood. It wasn’t much of a house. It was the post-war era, and houses were scarce. I walked to school for my first four years. Forty-three years ago, I again walked those streets as a visitor. The neighborhood was a standard kids’ place: safe, clean, normal.

It is now a suburb of hell.

The krump dancers believe they are doing something important. They see dancing as the one bright spot in their lives. But this is not the kind of dancing that normal kids can do. This is wild, flailing abandon.

This is a war against normality.

The filmmaker, who is a professional fashion photographer, splices in scenes from African dancing. The dancers’ faces are painted. So are the faces of the kids in the movie. There is violent physical contact between the African males. We see the same with the teenagers. The eyes are filled with hate.

The message is this: in the ghetto, life is beyond hope. Teenagers are seeking meaning and relevance in these new dance forms.

One of the dancers’ mother, who was in jail for drug possession during her son’s early teens, says that the dancing has helped him. This is the assessment of the adults interviewed.

One of the girls, who is a church-attender, says that what she is during the day is not what she is on the dance floor. That is obvious to anyone who sees her on the dance floor. She is utterly wild.


Eight decades ago, the chief theorist of the Italian Communist Party, Antonio Gramsci, returned from the Soviet Union. He was convinced by then that Lenin had been wrong. The Communists were not going to be successful in overturning the West through proletarian mobilization. The culture of the West was too resistant, too Christian. He drew up a new plan: to undermine the West’s culture, setting it up for Communist revolution.

Gramsci in fact abandoned Marxism. Marx had identified the mode of production as the bedrock foundation of society: the substructure. Culture, philosophy, and politics were part of the superstructure. Gramsci rejected this analysis, though not openly. He placed culture as the substructure, resting on religion.

Rize is a visual presentation of a war against culture in the name of art. It is amazing that these kids are aware of the language of the arts. They understand modern art criticism’s fundamental presupposition: there are no standards for art. There are only artists. The artists claim the cover of artistic creativity for what is visibly a war against Western culture. So do these kids.

I think the filmmaker shares this assumption. He comes, not as a critic, but as a fellow artist.

In the midst of $600,000 houses is cultural devastation. In the suburbs of Los Angeles there is a rival culture.

Crips battle the Bloods with Uzi’s. Clowns battle krumps with dancing. One thing is clear: most Los Angeles residents are not part of this confrontation, except as distant bystanders. How distant? About a 15-minute drive up a freeway.


Only occasionally do we see what is going on. A movie like Rize is a rarity. It does not get above our radar, but it does get above our children’s radar.

Parts of the soundtrack are hip-hop songs. The language is X-rated. We who are not conversant in the language of the ghetto are unaware of the frontal assault that rap lyrics represent. We do not listen to rap radio. We may invest in the huge media corporations that publish this material, but we pay no attention. Apart from Al Gore’s wife a long time ago and Bill Cosby, no one of much prominence has taken a stand against it.

We assume that what goes on in the ghetto has nothing to do with us. But it has a lot to do with setting the standards for our children and grandchildren.

Despite hundreds of billions of dollars of government money, despite decades of tax-funded education, despite all of the rhetoric of the civil rights movement, life in South Central Los Angeles is worse than it was in 1964.

I watched Rize in a darkened theater in Mississippi. I suspect that I was the only white man in the room. I am confident that I was the only white grandfather. The audience was mildly enthusiastic about the film. As a one-time resident of Inglewood, I was not.

In 1960, I would have advised a black resident of Mississippi to move to South Central Los Angeles. There were no lynchings in South Central Los Angeles. Nobody bombed black churches. The KKK was not a factor.

Today, I would advise a resident of Watts to sell his $600,000 house and move to Mississippi.

The cultures have changed in both regions. It has changed for the better in Mississippi. If I am to believe Rize, it has changed for the worse in Watts.


It does not matter how much government money is pumped into South Central Los Angeles. It does not matter how many school reforms are proposed and even funded. Hell is not a matter of a lack of funding. It is a matter of vision.

The movie does not tell us what “krump” means. One contributor to a Rize-based forum did.

Tribal symbols and figures were used. Krump is a acronem…… it means that each letter has a meaning, and for those who dont know krumping is a religous dance, but some people have lost faith.

K stands for Kingdom

R stands for Radically

U stands for Unified

M stands for Mighty

P stands for Praise

I am in agreement with the contributor. This is indeed a religious dance with a religious worldview. It is the religion of revolution.

Rize would have been more accurately titled as Raze.

June 30, 2005

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit http://www.freebooks.com. He is also the author of a free multi-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible.

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