Tommy the Clown and his crew hosted a Battle Zone in Germany in 2007.

Long before krumpers like Russell Ferguson and choreographer Lil’ C gained a national platform via “So You Think You Can Dance,” Thomas “Tommy the Clown” Johnson was pioneering the style on the streets of Los Angeles. “I started out doing birthday parties for kids, and soon began teaching and training kids [in hip-hop ‘clowning’],” he says. Thanks to the palpable energy and colorful characters involved, clowning spread like wildfire and expanded to include a more rugged, in-your-face style known as krump.

 

To meet increasing interest, Johnson opened a dance academy in Inglewood, California, and spearheaded regular Battle Zone competitions for local crews. The phenomenon was captured by David LaChapelle in his 2003 short film Clowns in the Hood and critically acclaimed 2005 documentary Rize.

 

Since then, Johnson has been in high demand, teaching master classes, performing around the globe and judging krump competitions. He was recently featured on an episode of MTV’s newest show, “The Buried Life,” and he continues to serve as the (brightly painted) face of krump.

 

Dance Teacher: Since krumping is mostly freestyle, how do you teach it in a classroom setting?

Tommy the Clown: We start with the basics: arm swings, chest pops and body rotations. I have my crew there, and we show the dancers a few 8-counts. Then we teach them how to put their own energy and creativity into it. We bring them up in groups of eight to do the routine in front of each other. We top it off with a battle. The energy in the room is crazy; it’s all about motivation.

 

DT: Does the lack of a rigid technique make krumping more accessible to untrained dancers?

TTC: Krump definitely allows more room for non-dancers. We try to make everyone feel like they are someone. However, when a dancer who is familiar with freestyling does krump, it’s off the chain. Look at Russell [Ferguson] from “SYTYCD”—he is top-notch.

 

DT: How does krumping fit into the larger picture of similar styles, like hip hop and B-boying?

TTC: When we first started krump, we used it as a tool of expression to release aggression. But it can also be used to accent other styles. You can add it to hip-hop moves to make them pop. The energy of krump makes movement more intense, more crisp.

 

DT: Thanks to you, krump is now being presented in middle and high schools. Tell us more about Battle Zone League.

TTC: We’re working on doing Battle Nights once a month in different schools. Our focus is saying no to gangs and drugs and staying positive. Schools use our program as a tool to improve test scores. If they get better, we’ll come in and do a big show. Lo and behold, test scores start going through the roof.

 

DT: What are your plans and goals as krumping continues to expand?

TTC: I would love to tour the U.S. with the movement. I feel that I can motivate and inspire at-risk kids before it’s too late. I have people hit me up on MySpace all the time to come to their schools and studios. If we could get funding to do that, that would be awesome. I started this movement by myself—now it’s time to all get involved and do even more for the kids. DT

 

A former hip-hop, dance fitness and cheerleading instructor, Jen Jones is a Los Angeles–based freelance writer.

 

Photo courtesy of Thomas "Tommy the Clown" Johnson

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Julianna D. Photography, courtesy of Abreu

Although Rudy Abreu is currently JLo's backup dancer and an award-winning choreographer—his piece "Pray" tied for second runner-up at the 2018 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and a variation of the piece made it to the finals on NBC's "World of Dance"—he still finds time to teach. Especially about how he hears music.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dance Teacher Web
Courtesy Dance Teacher Web

Dance students aren't the only ones who get to spend their summers learning new skills and refining their dance practice. Studio owners and administrators can also use the summer months to scope out new curriculum ideas, learn the latest business strategies and even earn a certification or two.

At Dance Teacher Web's Conference and Expo, attendees will spend July 29–August 1 in Las Vegas, Nevada learning everything from new teaching methods to studio management software. And as if the dance and business seminars weren't enough, participants can also choose from three certifications to earn during the conference to help expand their expertise, generate new revenue and set their studios apart:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

James Payne, director of The School of Pennsylvania Ballet, starts class each day by asking students how they feel. "If they're collectively hurting, and I know that the day before they were working hard on something new, I might lessen the intensity of the class," he says. "I won't slow it down, though. Sometimes it's better to move through the aches and get to the other side."

A productive class depends, in part, on how well it is paced. If you move too slow, you risk losing students' interest and creating unwanted heaviness. Move too fast and dancers might not fully benefit from combinations or get sufficiently warm, increasing their risk of injury. But even these guidelines may differ depending on the students' age and level. Good pacing is a delicate balance that can facilitate mental and physical growth, but it requires good planning, close observation and the ability to adapt mid-class.

Keep reading... Show less
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: Our dancers' parents want to observe class, but students won't focus if I let them in the room. I've tried having them observe the last 10 minutes of class, but even that can be disruptive and bring the dancers' progress to a halt. Do you have any advice on how to handle this?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Running your own studio often comes with a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality. After all, you're the one who teaches class, creates choreography, collects tuition, plans a recital, calls parents, answers e-mails, orders costumes—plus a host of other tasks, some of which you probably don't even think about. But what if you had someone to help you, someone who could take certain routine or clerical tasks off your hands, freeing you up to focus on what you love?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Derek and Julianne Hough via @juleshough on Instagram

Here at Dance Teacher, we LOVE a talented dance family. Something about parents and siblings passing their passion for dance down to those who come after them just warms our hearts.

While there are many sets of talented siblings across all genres of dance, ballroom seems to be particularly booming with them.

Don't believe us? Check out these four sets of ballrooms siblings we can't take our eyes off of. Their parents have raised them right!

This is far from a comprehensive list, so feel free to share your favorite sets of dance siblings over in our comments!

Keep reading... Show less
Courtesy of Roxey Ballet

This weekend, Roxey Ballet presented a sensory-friendly production of Cinderella at the Kendell Main Stage Theater in Ewing, New Jersey, with sound adjustments, a relaxed house environment and volunteers present to assist audience members with special needs. The production came on the heels of three educational residencies held at New Jersey–based elementary schools in honor of Autism Awareness Month in April.

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Shared via Dance Teacher Network Facebook

I'm a part of a popular group on Facebook called Dance Teacher Network which consists of dance teachers across the country discussing and sharing information on all things dance. Yesterday morning, I spotted a photo shared in the group of four smiling young boys in a dance studio. And I couldn't help but smile to myself and think, "Wow, I never had that...that's pretty damn amazing."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Marr

When Erica Marr discovered ballroom dancing in her late teens, she instantly fell in love with the Latin beats and strong drum lines that challenged her musicality. After shifting her focus away from contemporary and jazz, she began studying with elite ballroom coaches in New York City and quickly earned a World Championship title in her division.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Thinkstock

Q: I own a studio in a city that has a competitive dance market. I've seen other studios in my community put ads on Instagram and Facebook for open-call auditions in April, long before most studios have finished their competition season and year-end recitals. Is this fair?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox