LIL "C", Miss Prissy, and DRAGON talk about their new documentary film, Rize
Rize is a simple documentary about dancing, right? If you think that, you're very wrong. It's a powerful story of struggle and overcoming odds. The little known dance styles of Krumping and Clowning are told from the point of view of the people who do it. The people of South Central Los Angeles. I was able to talk to three of the Krump dancers - LIL "C," Miss Prissy, and DRAGON at a press event for the film. Not only were they excited to talk about the film, they were just as happy to have people to talk to. These are some of the most fascinating people I've ever met; to be so humble and at the same time very much in the spotlight, it was a nice refreshing taste. This dance has proven to be a huge career boost for Miss Prissy and LIL "C" who are currently on tour with the rap star, 'The Game.' Here's what they had to say:
Were there any hesitations about doing this project when you were first approached?
Lil C: When we were first approached with the idea that David LaChapelle wanted to come in and he was interested in what we were doing. It was around the time when he had already filmed stripper dancers and got into that style. He had been filming Tommy and his clown troupe and the clown dancing style for a number of months. When he finally found us, it was like the missing piece to a triangle, so to speak. When he came to us, he didn't come as you know, David LaChapelle, the world-renowned photographer of still photography and what-not with a scroll, a list of celebrities. He came as David. He came and he exuded, he reeked of passion. All he wanted to do was share this with the world, like, "What you guys do is so amazing. I can't believe that I'm the first guy to come here with a camera crew. I'm astonished. I'm shocked and amazed, and I want to share this." Nobody has ever approached us like that. People will come and like, "Oh, that's a new dance style. Let's put it in a video. Hey, let's make money. Let's exploit it, let's desecrate it, let's violate the sacredness of it." Whatever. He didn't come like that. He was all about, "Look, I've never seen anything like this." And for that to come out of David's mouth, who's seen everything, and then to come out of Tone and Rich Talauega's mouth, who used to choreograph for Michael Jackson. They've seen everything. It's okay like "We must be doing something special." So I think that it was a blessing and it was God's doing that David was the vessel and the mediator, the intercessor to take this to the world. So when it got in his hands, that was the last thing we ever worried about. Had it been somebody else, we always guard and protect the integrity of what we have, because it's been in the hood for so long. So always taking something mainstream, you always run the risk of it being exploited. But when you're dealing with such great people like David and the Talauega brothers and David's crew, you can't go wrong.
How do you feel about the way you're portrayed on screen?
Lil C: It's amazing. We learned. David learned a lot from us. I think we learned even more from David. Watching the film, he actually showed all of us that we are already stars. People always say, "Oh, you guys are going to be stars. You got a movie coming out." But, let David tell it, "These guys are already stars. They were doing this before the movie came out. Before I came and pieced everything together. Before I came there with my camera and started shooting them. You were stars already because, for one, you didn't succumb and conform to the violence and the stereotypes of your neighborhood. And you didn't become a statistic. You guys chose to create rather than destroy. You chose the path of creation, not destruction. So that makes you famous and that makes you a star." And as you watch the film, he represented it just as it was -- no sugar on top, no additives, no preservatives, all organic, natural, raw. So I was pleased with it.
Dragon, your pain came across in the film. What's your thought process on the film for you?
Dragon: All I can do is thank God for this film because we all have been through a lot, and we all have our troubles and what we go through. But it goes to show that despite what we go through, we can still overcome. We don't have to succumb and be weak and be the statistic. We can be heroes in the midst of all the turmoil and all the oppression. There's negativity going on all over the world. We're looked as pretty much the underdogs in the situation. I got to free myself up of a lot of anxiety and pain that I had dealt with and this dance is like therapy. It's really therapeutic to those who are going through - it just gives you a chance to free yourself.
When you guys [Krumps] were dancing in the solo group, there were bright colors, with the blue sky in the background. Do you think that that's more representative of you as a group, more colorful? As opposed to the Clowns, where they're colorful, but you're the next step, outside?
Dragon: Yeah. With the dance style that we do, its looked as a dark dance and its look at it as really aggressive, but you get to see the beauty in it. I think David had an eye for that. He contrasted it with the right colors. Just his whole color scheme, he's an artist. He has the mindset of an artist and he knows what to put in and what to take out. Our dance form, it was just like, we've said this a lot of times, a collage of pictures, and David came and put a frame around it. What he did was a beautiful job. It couldn't have been done better by anyone else.
Explain the origin of your names and the significance, if any, to your dancing?
Miss Prissy: Okay. Well, I don't really identify with Miss Prissy any more, but of course people still know me as that. But I've changed my name to Phoenix because I feel like I relate to that name more now, after this movement has taken place. When I was a Clown dancer, my name was Miss Prissy because that's where I started. I started when I was 19, so I was a late bloomer. I feel that the phoenix represents me because -- I think it represents all of us, because we've all been tattered and torn and we're all ashes that have been built back into something of importance. And I know that behind my name, I feel important now because I know that because of this dance, when we first started this movement, we would go to different clubs and different auditions and people would treat us like black sheep and tell us, "Oh, it would be nice if you guys calmed down. It would be nice if you guys weren't so aggressive." It would be nice if you accepted it the way it was: that's how I felt. Now that this movie has come out, people are jumping on the bandwagon. It's just like, "Oh, you know that is so great what you guys do." But we've been doing this for so long. So people have tried to take out the key ingredients, which is the rawness. People have tried to tone it down, adding water, putting us in tuxedoes, fake eyelashes, hearts and stars on our faces. It was never about that. It was so spiritual and so raw that Hollywood couldn't accept it because to me, Hollywood is all glam and plastic, and that's what they wanted this to be. We were rejected for so long. It took David to just sit back and enjoy the ride. That's how I felt. I felt that when David found us, he did this (she leans back, grasping her hands behind her head). He was like, "You know, I'm going to let you guys do you." Because so many people took an interest to it but tried to water it down. He was the only person that really sat back and allowed us to be us and create.
Lil C: Well, my name doesn't really dictate anything. Basically, it's just a plain name, Lil C. The "C" stands for Chris, which is my real name. Don't write that please, because I know all of y'all, and I'll get all of y'all in (drowned by laughter). My real name is Christopher Aaron Toler. I used to hang around a lot of Chris's because Chris is a very common name for every ethnicity, whether you're caucasian, African American, Hispanic, whatever. You always find a Chris. In order to make reference to which Chris they were talking to, it was like, "Okay, we've got to do something about this. We're going to call you 'Big C.' We're going to call you 'CP.' We're going to call you 'CT.' And you are just going to be 'Lil C.' I'm actually the biggest 'C,' but I'm also 'Lil C.' It's just whatever, just plain old 'C.'
Dragon: I got my name when I was younger, I was into martial arts and things like that. I was always fascinated with dragons. When you typically think of a dragon, you think of something really dark, dreary and something demonic. But I look at it in another sense because whenever in medieval times or ancient China, dragons were protectors of something sacred. If you had this holy temple, it was protected by the dragon. It kept away evil spirits and the dragon protected this great treasure, so that's how I look at it. People look at me as intimidating, but I'm pretty kind hearted, I love -
Lil C: He's a softy.
Miss Prissy: Soft. Admit it.
Dragon: So, you know, but I protect something very sacred. I protect the word of God. I protect my friends. I love all of them to the utmost. I would give my life for them. That name fits me because I am a protector. I protect the sacredness of whatever I choose to protect.
Lil C: And he tried to blow fire one time.
Miss Prissy: Very much so. He really tried to blow fire.
Lil C: He left that part out.
Miss Prissy: Don't even try that. He put alcohol in his mouth in a Battlezone and blew it into a -
Did he get hurt?
Miss Prissy: Yeah, his whole mouth was raw. If you need footage, please call 555 - (laughter)
Lil C: Contact me, and I'll get it.
How do stay in shape? You [Miss Prissy] are the most flexible woman I've seen.
Miss Prissy: I've been dancing for a very long time, since I was 4. I trained in ballet, point, tap, stuff like that. I swear to you I've never ever done anything as exhausting as getting Krump, and that's what's keeping me in shape. Right now I'm on tour with The Game. He's [Lil C] the choreographer. The stuff he has us do alone, keeps us in shape. All Krump dancing, but he's turned the freestyle of Krump into choreography. So, imagine that, and you're doing 54 shows of that. You're going to be in shape. So, thanks to Lil C.
Lil C: I try.
You're on tour with The Game? How's that experience?
Miss Prissy: Wow.
How's 50 Cent doing?
Miss Prissy: We don't get out with him. Actually, I love it. Not just because I'm on tour with The Game, but due to the fact that this man [Lil C] here hired me for that job, I can see the world. Everywhere I go, I see kids that are into Krumping. Even when I was in Europe, these kids are like, (in British accent) "Are you Miss Prissy?" I was like, "What? How do you know me?" And they're like "Oh you're ..." And I'm just like, "Oh, my God. This is really a craze." I went while I was in Boston and I went on the website, and there's kids in Hawaii and Cincinnati and Glasgow, Scotland that are into this. And that alone is amazing, and I think that me being on tour with him exercises me even more. You know what I'm saying? When I'm out there, there's a segment in the show where he allows me just to get Krump, like "Do you." And that alone, I'm like, "Well thank you Game. Thank you so much." And I feel like we're all going to be there one day. This man here [Lil C], he wasn't even a dancer at first. He's just amazing and he's traveled across the world. He's done things in Japan. And people in Japan know him. He's never seen them in his life. It's crazy. I love it though. I love traveling. I love being on the road with Game, he's a very positive man, despite what press may say. He encourages me. He wants to come to the screening on Monday. He's telling me, "Whatever you need to do for this guy. If you need to take a day off from touring and do stuff for the movie, do what you have to do. I'll be here." It's really great.
For you [Miss Prissy] and Lil C, has anyone in the industry, The Game, Dre, etc given you any advice, things to look out for?
Lil C: I work with a lot of artists: trained Omarion, I work with Ciara, Christina Milian. Just recently finished working with Missy Elliott. And everytime I meet a new artist, it's such a blessing because they'll pull me to the side and they'll just talk to me like, "You know you're really talented. I just want you to continue to do what you do. Don't let the industry change you. Don't let it change you and dictate the decisions that you make. You reek of nothing but positivity. People love to be around you. You're a breath of fresh air, and you are so willing to share your gift to enhance our music and what we do. Just keep doing what you're doing." Our relationship with those artists is not like they hire me for a job and that's it. It's one of, it's perpetual motion, it's repetitious, like, "Hey, what's that you're doing?" Omarion and I would go out to eat. Ciara, she calls me and checks up on me. It's just great. And the industry is not all like what tabloids say. There's a lot of negativity that surrounds it, but there's a lot of negativity that surrounds South Central, and we all came from that, and look how positive we are. So you really can't go off of, you can't let another person dictate your perception of something. You got to go through it yourself.
You still living in South Central? If not, where did you move to?
Lil C: I'm still in the hood.
Miss Prissy: Me too.
Lil C: Lil C still lives in the hood. 7th Ave and Hyde Park -- can't give out my address because y'all might print that.
Miss Prissy: I still live with my mother.
Lil C: I stay with my mother and my little brother. Dragon still stays with his family. I want everybody to understand. This is the question we always get: "So how has the movie changed your life? Since you guys are superstars, you guys are famous." They expect us to say, "You know I'm living in a mansion right now."
Miss Prissy: "Got a Bentley."
Lil C: What you got to understand is our struggle is something that, what we've gone through, it can be looked at as something to be ashamed about, but through the film you can see that our struggle is what makes us special. So be proud of your struggle. Don't be ashamed of it because it's what makes you special, bottom line. And living in South Central is why I chose to do what I do. Living where she lives, living where he lives, all of us. It was our surroundings, our atmosphere, where we were, where we reside, things that we incur every day, made us who we are, who sit here at this press conference to speak to you right now.
But doesn't Rize mean you're rising above your circumstances? Is there a point where you see yourself moving out?
Miss Prissy: Oh, most definitely. I know that right now, I'm looking to buying property in Atlanta because I want to get out of the ghetto because it's such a harsh reality to sit here in front of you guys, and we feel so good like, "Oh my God, people are interested in us," and nine times out of nine, you guys probably live in a much better area than we do. But the harsh reality is after all this, this catering that we're getting done here, after all this press and after all this fancy food we have back here in this Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, we go right back to South Central. That's the harsh reality and knowing that is what motivates me to steadfast in the area that I'm in right now, get my mother out of the hood. Make sure that all of us are taken care of financially and spiritually. This right here is a mind blower. I'm driving in the car down the street and I'm looking on billboards and I'm seeing myself. And in the mall people are like, "Oh my God, you're the girl from that movie. Can I have your ...?" And I'm like, "Dude, if you only knew. You probably have more money and more jewels than me. I still live at home." But I know that I'm rich with other things that some people don't have. So it's okay that I go back to South Central because at the end of the day, I'm filled with something else. And it doesn't have to be material things.
Is this a distraction then? Are you looking forward to this being over so you can get on with your life?
Miss Prissy: I've always said that I wanted to be an entertainer. I've always said that because I love attention. I'm quite sure we all do unless we would not even begin to create this movement. But you're right. The spotlight shines and it will dim out. After that spotlight dims, where's your mark? So that's what our only concern is right now is that when you guys walk out of here you leave with a mark. So, it doesn't distract me. I'm quite sure it doesn't distract any of us. It's overwhelming sometimes. Sometimes I just can't believe that I'm in a movie. The stuff that I was just doing in my backyard the whole world is taking an interest in. That's more of a shocker to me. So I don't want it to be over. I love it. Like, "You really like what we do?" It's so amazing to see people cry over us, to get so involved in our situation to where they want to come into sit in my living room. It's like "You really take an interest." No one's ever taken an interest, at least on the other side of the hill that is. Hollywood has never taken an interest. We've always had this going on since, what, when did Tommy start this? '92? And it's 2005. So now people want to pay attention because it's like the old saying that "You build a castle. It's your hard work. And then when it's over, people want to come live in it." And it's sad. Some people are doing that right now. Some people are now trying to jump on the bandwagon that has turned us down so many times. And it's okay because in the end we will prosper. We will rise.
What's your relationship with Tommy [the Clown] right now?
Lil C: Tommy basically, since he started in '92, I used to dance for Tommy the Clown (MP mouths "Me too.") from about I'll say 2000 to maybe January 2002, so maybe like a year and nine months maybe. And so my experience dancing with him is where I actually learned to entertain the crowd, how to grasp the audience's attention, how to have a better musical ear, what to do on stage, what not to do on stage, just how to become a better performer period and more confident. So when I split and went my own way, with Tommy's blessing, along with Tight Eyez, another cast member from Rize, we had learned everything we needed to learn, so we culminated as one would do from junior high to high school, and high school to so on. When we got together and created Krump, it had those same characteristics, but we took that and practically applied that and from that started to dance to different type of music, more hard hitting, more rugged, start doing more aggressive movement and whatnot. So, from that you had Krump. And the same following that Clown dancing had, Krump had attained the same following but just a different type of crowd. So my relationship with Tommy has always been good. It's wonderful to see his hard work and to see our hard work. We just came together, two forces joined together now to push against the oppression of society.
How did this movement move outside of your neighborhood prior to the movie?
Miss Prissy: I think a lot of that has to do with Tommy the Clown because he does birthday parties everywhere. When we used to dance for Tommy, we would do parties in Chatsworth, parties in Moreno Valley up north. He has a website and he has battle nights. And it's almost like hearsay. I don't want to bring up magazines or anything like that, but just like when you hear gossip it's just like pass it on, pass it on, pass it on. It just flows that way. I honestly don't know how it got all the way across seas. Do you know? I don't know.
Lil C: Yeah, I do. (laughs) I'm a professional dancer and choreographer, so before we were filming I was teaching. I asked to teach, and of course when you're in the dance world, it's a whole nother realm when you step into the professional side of it. A kid from Japan, kids from Italy, Holland, Belgium, Australia, they're so hungry for dance that they travel all the way out here to go to Hollywood to go to Millennium and Debbie Reynolds to take class because this is where it's at. This is where the talent is. And I would be teaching class , and I would always get the foreigners. They'd take the class and go, "I've never seen this style before. What is that?" And I'd explain it to them. And then all of a sudden they'd come every other three months, and all of a sudden, when we had the short, before it was a feature it was called "Clowns in the Hood" and it premiered in BBC London. So they were "Oh, that's what I saw in LA." And then you would go back and you would try to explain what you saw. But it's so hard to explain it verbally. So like when you see the movie, you're like, "You need to go see 'Rize." "What's it about?" "It's, you just need to go see it." It's kind of like that. So it only takes one person. One person is all it takes. And you make a good impression, that person will tell this person, and the next person will tell another person. And then all it takes is one video. With every video, with every word you hear, with everything, all types of positive propaganda that you have propelling your movie, it's wide range, wide scale. Then it's going to Japan and hit Korea, then it's all over London. So, you can't really stop it.
You actually teach Krump now?
Lil C: Yeah, I teach. Well, my schedule has gotten kind of busy, but I teach what I call "Krump-ography." It's choreography, but it's Krump style, so I call it "Krump-ography." Just being one of the creators of Krump, I had to seriously sit back and say to myself, "Okay, how do I maintain the organic style, the organic side of this? Keep it raw, keep it hard hitting, but make it to where people can learn this." So what I did was, I would take the CD. I'd go in the studio. I would freestyle to it - countless, like two hours - I would be sweatin' in the studio. And I would videotape myself. And then I would just be like, "Okay, I can't recreate my moves." So what I would do is I would listen to the song and whatever song made me feel, whatever body movement -- if it was my chest, if it was my arms, if it was like a neck roll, anything -- I'd try to count it and put it in counts. So I did it, and I came up, I was successful with an eight count. And I did and I showed it to somebody, and they're like, "That's hot." So I was like, "Okay, I can do this." So from then on, it was more complex than me teaching classes. From then on, I just put together -- they gave me two songs on tour and I smoke 'em. When I showed it to the girls, actually, they looked at me like, "We're not going to do that."
Miss Prissy: I definitely said I wasn't going to do it.
Lil C: "We can't do that." Everybody just stood like this.
Miss Prissy: And I get Krump. It was just like, how do you change your freestyle like that? Because when he first showed it to me, I was like, "I can do that, but I don't know." It just seemed so different. I was like "Are you sure that we're going be able to pick all of this up?" It was a lot to stomach, but it worked out because now that's all that Game wants to see. He's like, "I don't want you dancing all girly. I like that Krump stuff you guys do, you know (demonstrates) that. I like that. I want more of that. I want no skin showing. You know, dress real baggy." I'm like, "Okay, that's what's up." And that's another thing, I feel like this whole Krump movement is going to change the way women are depicted in videos as well because soon as he saw that, his first thing on tour -- Do you know what we wear? We wear baggy Dickies and Chucks and we dress like boys. And I like that because I feel comfortable because I don't have to show my body. Everything he makes up is not sexual. It's real rough and rugged. So hopefully this changes the video scene as well with different artists.
So you'll be dancing at Live 8 when you're on tour with them, right? How about that?
Miss Prissy: Yes. I've been dancing with Game since last year October, so I'm ready for whatever. I just got home two days ago. Feels great. I'm ready. I love dancing for him. I love seeing the world.
You say when you dance, it's not sexual. But when you see 4, 5-year-old girls dance like that, is it scary that they're dancing like that? Why is it not sexual to you guys, but to an outsider like me it looks that way.
Lil C: It all depends on what kind of message you're conveying. The style, sexuality and whatever, sexuality and negativity are characteristics that have been outlawed from the style. So that right there is not going through their minds or anybody's mind who's watching it unless you happen to be an outsider. The first thing would be like, "Oh my goodness. How old is she? Uh uh." But what you got to understand is on a different interval, a different plateau, it's a form of expression, so the music is taking you over. That is what you feel at that time, which is why in the movie it makes the greatest point. When you see Lil Mama from the movie, who happens to be able to every style -- she can Stripper dance, she can Clown dance, she's a wonderful Krumper, she'd probably beat me sometimes, It's crazy. -- It's like when you see her you're like "Oh my God. How old is she?" But then right then, as soon as the audience can say "Oh," explanation right there. I see 4-year-olds whatever, whatever and then people say, "Oh I won't let my daughter do that." But nobody's out there with her. She's not emitting a sexual type of energy. She is four years old. She's not timid. She's four, five, six, seven. She's not timid. She has enough courage to go out there and be expressive to the music. Which is a certain type of courage that even adults don't have because they're so reserved. They're scared. Whatever the case may be. So I'm happy that that point is always made and I always look back and watch people's faces. And they go from this (shocked) to this.
Dragon: You also have to look at it as she's an innocent little girl. In her mindset when she's dancing, she's not thinking, "I want to have sex." She's a little girl. She's just dancing. So it also has to go with the person who's watching. What is in your mind when you're looking at it. In the dance form we give people the freedom to express themselves, how they want to express themselves without judging them.
Miss Prissy: Also, in my last interview, it was brought up that I guess about me always showing my skin. I guess someone took offense to that, but like I said in my last interview, that wasn't what David was trying to capture. In the poster you can see that there's nothing sexual about that. It's more so that he wants people to see our movements, the muscles that we use as we're dancing. When the interviewer asked me that, I was almost like, "My god, you really think that I'm trying to be sexual?" It's not that. He really wants everyone to see that this is very African-based. I think. In Africa, women walk around with their breasts out, and no one takes offense to that because it has to do with culture. Why can't this be looked at in the same way? Just like with Lil Mama rotating and lifting her shirt up. Belly dancers rotate, but that's a part of their culture.
Lil C: It's all about. What you got to realize is it's all about not being ashamed. Not being ashamed of your struggle. Not being ashamed of your hardships. So, the style of dance, that's what it's all about. It's inspiration. So, why would you be ashamed to show this? (points to poster) Look at it. It entails everything. This is a visual synopsis of what we're going through. What we incur on a day-to-day basis. It's free. It's freedom. It's being free. And the only person that could ever capture this and deliver this message is David LaChapelle because it's art. And who better to know to do with art than an artist like himself. You got to look past that. You can't look with your human eye. You have to look with your third eye, the artistic eye. Everybody has an artistic eye. And when you view it through that eye -- bam. You comprehend it. That's all it is.
Dragon, when you see that poster, what do you think of?
Lil C: He actually gets jealous of me.
Dragon: Yeah, right. (sarcastic) I see a liberation of a people. And not just African American people. I see liberation of all people who have been oppressed, no matter where they are. I see that as the culmination of the rise of a people who have been held back for so long. The people who are not just meant, the people who just want to be free for real. I see that as a liberating sign for freedom, kind of like the culmination of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" that one day..
How is Clowing and Krumping different.
Lil C: Actually, Clowing and Krumping are two different styles, but their differences are actually what make them similar. The thing that they have in common are that they're both based off inspiration and based off having an alternative to choosing the negative road in life, falling victim to the stereotypical statements that surround us as a people. Clowning is more visually entertaining, happy whatnot: what the Clowns wear, the style of makeup, balloons, colorful wigs, primary colors. Krumping itself is more aggressive. It's the flip side to the coin. It's more aggressive. You see more raw moves. It's more in your face dance style. The clothing is different, the apparel is different. You've got earth tones, brown, baggy pants, Timberland boots, camouflage, all type of stuff. You can see the differences actually.
Miss Prissy: The redheaded stepchild.
Lil C: Through the dance, through what you wear, through how we talk, the type of music we listen to, everything.
Rize opens in theaters in Los Angeles and New York June 24th, and hopefully in other cities very soon after that.