USC Annenberg grad helps bring street dance to the stage for the first time

Recent alumna Jessica Koslow’s exploration of krump for her thesis project last year sparked a relationship that culminated with the first live performance of the street dance phenomenon on a mainstream stage.

The Underground: From the Streets to the Stage, was performed at Bovard Auditorium on Sept. 5, which coincided with the 10th anniversary of krump, a form of impromptu street dance now performed nationally.

“When I was going to go to grad school, I thought if I can do anything I want and I can pick my topic, I want to do street dancing,” said Koslow, a 2012 graduate of the M.A. in Specialized Journalism (the Arts) program.

Through her research, she developed relationships with Marquisa Gardner (known by her stage name, Miss Prissy, pictured above) and Christopher " Lil’ C" Toler, two of the four founders of krump, which started locally in South Central Los Angeles. Koslow then produced a documentary about krumping for class about a weekly gathering of krump dancers in North Hollywood, and later wrote her thesis about it.

After krumping on the streets for years, Miss Prissy said she wanted to take the dance to the next level by performing on stage. Koslow helped make Miss Prissy’s dream a reality by approaching USC Visions and Voices: The Arts and Humanities Initiative about bringing krumping to the 1,235-seat Bovard Auditorium.

“I feel like Visions and Voices was really great in that when I tried to emphasize to them that this was a dance that was born in your backyard, basically in South Central,” Koslow said. “They share the same community. Why should it be someone else giving this dance form recognition? Why can’t it be USC? And they really caught on. They said, ‘We get that, and we want to be the ones to honor krump on the 10th anniversary.’”

Krump’s origins lie in Miss Prissy’s and Lil’ C’s performances with Tommy the Clown, the pioneer of a clowning, which is a hip hop style of dance. They eventually created krump, incorporating bits of clowning.

“(Krump) is a combination of street dance elements and African dance,” Miss Prissy said. “We are reinventing history without us even knowing it. Just because we’re thousands of miles away from the motherland doesn’t mean the heart is.”

Koslow's documentary focused on krump dancing at the 818, a weekly krump circle that gathers every Wednesday at midnight in a grocery store parking lot in North Hollywood.

“When you’re at the 818, it’s so free. It feels like you just walked into another galaxy,” Miss Prissy said. “It’s so fresh and so relieving to be around a group of people who aren’t really there for themselves, but they’re there for the feeling that we’re all giving each other.”

Miss Prissy said that the 818 feels like the most non-commercialized krump session, as the others have become more self-seeking.

Lil’ C has his own reasons for going there.

“I’ve gravitated to this nook in the valley and it’s 3 in the morning and we all have so many other things we could be doing,” Lil’ C said, “but I’m here and we’re dancing, we’re creating, we’re painting and we have made the choice to come together to create rather than destroy.”

Lil’ C said as a group, they are celebrating victory over their struggles. Although there is pain associated with krumping, he is happy to experience that pain and know that it doesn’t stagnate him, but motivates him instead.

“There is victory in acknowledging the fact that you are triumphant, enough to recognize that you have overcome your struggle and you’re not ashamed of it,” Lil’ C said.

Sasha Anawalt , director of the Specialized Journalism (The Arts) program, co-advised Koslow along with communication professor Robeson Taj Frazier in getting the show off the ground. Anawalt said that The Underground performance at the Bovard Auditorium literally entertained the audience. To entertain, in the Latin, means to hold between.

The audience was so moved by the Bovard performance that the crowd gave the show a five-minute standing ovation.

“When you rise to your feet, you want to be entertained, you want to be lifted out of your seat and held between heaven and Earth," Anawalt said. "And that happened. That definitely happened. You get that maybe three times in your life. And that happened in that space in that time. How could you not be completely thrilled?”

Visions and Voices was attracted to the event because of its ability to bring the community onto campus, Anawalt said.

“It mixed up the student body with our neighbors. And that’s really important,” Anawalt said. “I think the audience was unbelievable. By the end there I felt everyone in the house was in the house together, and that is an incredible opportunity.”

Visions and Voices hopes to bring The Underground back for another performance next year, Anawalt said.

M.A. in Specialized Journalism
Koslow's documentary
The Underground: From the Streets to the Stage 
KCET article and video