Santa Barbara ain’t no South Central, but this week the American Riviera will get a taste of SoCal flavor when Tommy and the Hip-Hop Clowns come to town. Thomas “Tommy” Johnson is the originator of krumping, an urban dance style that blends hip-hop, boxing, and break dance in a competitive format. He and his crew will be teaching in Santa Barbara on Tuesday, May 27.
It was in 1992, the same year the world witnessed the Rodney King riots, that the former drug dealer and prison convict from South Central Los Angeles donned a rainbow-colored clown wig, painted his face, and started entertaining at children’s birthday parties. His urban dance form and messages of nonviolence gained a following and in 2005 caught the attention of filmmaker David LaChapelle, whose documentary, Rize, introduced krumping to the public. The following year, Summerdance Santa Barbara brought Tommy and the Hip-Hop Clowns to the city’s annual dance festival, where one teenager was particularly inspired by his performance.
That teenager was Jackie Rotman, the 14-year-old founder of Everybody Dance Now!, which offers free weekly dance classes to disadvantaged kids. Rotman decided that the young people she worked with should get a chance to learn from Tommy themselves. “He touches everyone he meets and is a remarkable role model,” Rotman said. “I knew that he could have a lasting, positive impact on these kids by sharing his motivating story and by helping the kids express themselves in a positive way-through dance.”
This Tuesday, Rotman will get her wish when Tommy teaches two master classes, one for ages 12 and under, one for those 13 and up. The classes are being offered free to those in need. As Rotman sees it, Santa Barbara is not immune to the kind of social strife and frustration that leads to violence, and the high-energy free expression of krumping is the perfect anger and tension release.
“Underprivileged or not, young or old, we can all learn from Tommy and benefit from the positive energy behind krump dance,” said Rotman. “His class brings energy out of you that you never knew you had and makes you feel incredible.”
Tommy himself refers to krumping as “the darker side of clowning,” but to Rotman, it’s an art form that motivates young people to “go after their dreams, do well in school, and live a positive and healthy lifestyle.”