CHESAPEAKE, Va. — On a peaceful afternoon in a suburban home garage, Demetrus Leslie, 17, jerked like he was dosed with strychnine. His arms lashed menacingly, then he dropped to the floor, only to rear up smoothly.
His chest popped in and out, convulsing as if an alien larva heaved within. He ranged around the garage, “traveling,” or following the direction of his foot stomps and arm swings.
“Go, go!” admiring friends yelled over the pounding music. In his spontaneity, speed and mesmerized concentration, they could see the tell-tale symptoms.
Demetrus had got krump. Praise the Lord!
Krump is a frenetic dance born on the West Coast, combining flashes of modern dance, break-dancing, tribal-like dance, hip hop, “pop lock” steps and free-form motion, often at blurring speed.
But while some krumpers elsewhere – have a nearly religious devotion for the dance, Leslie and his friends say Krump truly is all about God.
“When you going the fastest, that’s when you unleash, that’s when God takes over,” said Demetrus, who belongs to a local krump group, Kreative Mindz Crew: The Syfer Family, that aims to keep kids off the street and in the church.
The origins of the name Krump are obscure, but fans including Demetrus’ older brother, Kreative Mindz manager Danyasius Leslie, give it this definition: Kingdom Radicals Uplifting Mighty Praise.
“How would I describe krump?” said Danaysius, 29. “I would say, because I have a Christian background, that it’s the power of God that moves.”
For Kreative Mindz dancers, to krump is to praise God through movements inspired by the Holy Spirit. “It’s God, man, all we do is give the glory to God,” said Jaren Goodridge, 15.
Krump’s spiritual dimension may not be immediately apparent to the uninitiated spectator, and Leslie conceded it can be hard for outsiders to see the thrashing and jumping as divinely inspired.
In the Leslies’ garage, lithe Goodridge danced like a caffeine fiend, slender arms swinging, bending and jabbing triple-time, one motion flowing into the next, his gaze fixed on the floor.
Alexis Hinton, in contrast, shot wolfish looks, baring her teeth while stamping and clawing the air with outstretching arms. Despite the feminine bows on her red flats, she radiated anger. Krumping, she said, is a powerful emotional release.
Nohnee Purvis, a high school sophomore, said he first krumped for fun but soon, “the whole spiritual thing of it just hit me in the chest,” he said. Now, he even acts differently.
“Sundays, I’d just sit in the house, sleep, talk on the phone,” Purvis said. “Now I get up and go to church. My whole mind has changed. We got Christ up.”
Leslie started the group two years ago with his brother and some friends, inspired by “Rize,” a lauded 2005 documentary on krump by renowned photographer David LaChapelle.
According to Leslie, a hip-hop dancer named Tommy the Clown started krump in California in the 1990s. The expressive, freestyle dance caught on as an alternative to street violence, with dancers competing, or “battling,” one another to display their moves and krumping prowess.
Leslie’s dance practices in his garage fascinated neighborhood kids and he began recruiting, setting conditions for membership.
One rule is to keep up with school work. “I don’t look for C’s and D’s; I look for A’s and B’s,” said Leslie, who often checks in with parents about teens’ grades.
Leslie also feeds dancers a steady diet of Bible verses and expects them to make Jesus Christ their model. The twice-weekly dance practices start with prayer. Dancers are expected to go to church.
The group has performed about 25 times during Sunday worship at New Light Full Gospel Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, which Leslie attends. Bishop Rudolph B. Lewis said some older congregants initially recoiled when he allowed krumping at services.
Lewis himself said he understands krump dancing no better than his parents’ generation understood Elvis Presley’s risque swivel-hips in the ’50s. But he’s told parishioners that teens are more likely to attend church — and to say no to gang-banging — if they know their unorthodox worship styles are welcomed.
“God wants to hear what you want to say, and he don’t care how you say it, and if you say it like this” — Lewis contorted himself, krump-like — “he hears you.”
Krump’s style is radical compared with typical liturgical or praise dance found in many churches.
“Praise dance teams are very lyrical, ethereal, soft. They follow a modern or jazz structure,” said Norfolk State University dance professor Glendola Mills-Parker. Krump, by contrast, “is a pure street form, being done in church.”
But she said krumpers who feel the “spirit” when they’re absorbed in their dance — “in the zone,” some krumpers say — are no different than worshippers who writhe while “shouting” in church. Both transcend their earthly surroundings.
“When you get the spirit, the Holy Ghost,” she said, “then you give way.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Vegh is a writer for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va.)