As Hard as She Can

Women in Krump Push the Limits

Photos by Brennan Booker and Kemani Saunders

Everyone has clumped together to form a tightknit circle. The music is blaring; you can feel the bass thumping in your chest, a rhythm faster than your heartbeat. Your movements are strong and sharp. Each body part gets its own moment in the spotlight as you isolate, pop and hit. Shouts of encouragement and excitement come from all areas of the circle as you put your passion out there for everyone to see.

This is the world of krump, an energetic and powerful dance form that is growing in popularity and numbers every day. It started on the streets as a way to express excitement, anger and passion, and it has continued evolving into a network of dancers who continue to shape and change this art. Relatively new to the dance world, krump has been around for about 15-20 years, and in that time, it has made its way to all corners of the world: from Korea and Cuba to our own home in South Carolina.

“Krump is not angry; it’s expressive,” said Davon Bush, leader of the Lionheart krump group. “A lot of people think that. It’s expressive, powerful, full of energy, and it’s passionate. That’s the best way I can describe krump. In its primitive years it didn’t really have a lot of form or technique to it, and now, in its evolution, it has so many other dance styles that you incorporate into it. It’s an array of color.” 

Krump started as a dance form on the streets in the early 2000s. It caught on a few years later in South Carolina when a bunch of people saw Rise, a documentary about krump. 

Photos by Brennan Booker and Kemani Saunders

“It was me, a dude named Thomas Kelsey, and [Davon’s] brother, actually, Brandon Bush. Thomas Kelsey got in contact with some people in North Carolina that actually had roots and ties with people from California, and we started dancing with them a lot,” said Maurice Blakely, one of the original South Carolina krumpers. “After that, we formed a group called SNC: Supernatural Creations. From there, we started traveling to North Carolina doing battles, and then we had our first big event [in South Carolina], called Rumble City… And that started the first actual big push for South Carolina to be put on as far as being seen by other states.” 

And in the state of South Carolina, as krump has expanded and evolved, there are only two fierce women who have taken on the craft of krump: Kelsey Edwards and Leeah’ Garrett. Krump is generally seen as a masculine style, as it is sharp and hard-hitting, and it negates the graceful nature and fluidity of traditional feminine dance styles, such as ballet or contemporary. 

Kelsey, a South Carolina native, has been dancing since three years old. Her dance background came from a wide variety of different influences; she was self-taught, she danced in public school dance teams and she gained a liturgical dancing background in her church. After graduating high school, she moved to Greensboro, North Carolina to go to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (A&T), where she practiced and performed with a group called Couture Productions. 

“I was so embedded in dance in North Carolina it was crazy. It was like I was drowning in it, and I loved it so much,” Edwards said. 

It wasn’t until she moved to Columbia for a job opportunity that she started truly immersing herself in the world of krump, though. 

“But I always did my street stuff on the side. I always made sure I lived that part too, as well,” Edwards said. “Mind you, this is the plot twist: while all of this was going on in my life, the krump scene was here the whole time and I did not know. It was here, while I was growing up, and I had no clue about it. So it just stunned me when I was at A&T and I would come down [to Columbia] to visit, because I knew some people here...that’s when they started telling me all of this history that was happening here, that was connected to the stuff where I was in North Carolina.” 

Edwards has been training intensively in krump for about a year now. She is a part of the Lionheart fam, led by Davon Bush. She describes the dynamic of the 6 to 7-member group to be much like you would think of a dance crew, but much closer. 

“I’m Lady Lionheart, and then there’s Leeah’, who’s Girl Lionheart, and we’re literally the only two girls in the krump game in South Carolina right now, and that’s just really crazy. We’re trying to get more women involved, you know,” Edwards said. 

Leeah’ Garrett started krumping through Bush as well, a long-time friend of hers. She saw what he was up to on Facebook and went from there. 

“I just was interested because I was tired of doing the girly stuff—that’s what I call it—such as contemporary, jazz, ballet and stuff, because I’ve always done that. I’ve been dancing for about 7 years, doing all that stuff. So when [Bush] told me about it, I kind of fell in love with it as he kept teaching me,” Garrett said. “When I was being taught, it was hard for me because it was showing lots of powerful movements when, you know, you do the girly stuff, you should be graceful and have light movements. But with krump, you’re planted on the ground and you’re trying to make a sentence with just different parts of your body.” 

Garrett was the only woman in South Carolina training intensively in krump for about a year until Kelsey came on board. 

“It’s more of a manly dance, so when women try to express themselves, a lot of people kind of judge to see how we express ourselves in this type of dance,” Garrett said. “But being the only girl is kind of fun because we get to show different aspects of how we can actually do the same things as men can, just in a girl way…Once Kelsey joined, I kind of felt better and kind of felt more support, and we just support each other in the whole thing.” 

Edwards says she enjoys being able to push the boundaries of what the audience expects of her. 

“I’ve always liked to do more masculine dances because it’s just a nice switch-up. It’s nice because you’ll never know what to expect out of me, you know?” Edwards said. “Because I have a lot of different styles that are embedded into me, so you don’t know where I’m gonna go. And that element of surprise is something I really love.” 

In April, Edwards and Garrett will be traveling to Texas for a women’s gauntlet in krump with 18 other girls. The event is a part of a convention called The Resurrection, and it’s one of the biggest krump conventions in the United States. And although there may only be two women so far doing krump in South Carolina, they’re putting their talents out there for everyone to see. Perhaps the day where there are more women krumpers isn’t too far in the future. A few weeks ago, in a free krump dance class that they opened to the public, the room was filled with a crowd of women—moms, students, dancers and more. And with the encouragement and inspiration that Edwards and Garrett bring to aspiring dancers in South Carolina, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the numbers grow. 

“You don’t see a lot of girls that hit as hard as they should like that, so I always try to inspire to pretty much show guys, I can really do this too. You know?” Edwards said. “It doesn’t have to be just guys all the time to throw something powerful; sometimes it takes that female to really tear something down. The freedom of that to me is really addictive.”

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