Thomas “Tommy the Clown” Johnson is an iconic dance industry figure and originator of “krump dancing” and the “Battle Zone.” This year marks the 25th anniversary and creation of the unspoken “clowning” and “krumping” dance movement.
Johnson, who was a former inmate, was a reflection of the environment he grew up in. It wasn’t until he was released that he decided to change the direction of his life. After working as a typist clerk, he was asked by one of his co-workers to be a clown for her child’s birthday party.
“From then on, I never went back,” said Johnson. “I went through the neighborhood traveling in a green mustang jumping out dancing for about a year straight, just jumping out, passing out cards.”
What started as a young man passing out business cards around Watts, Los Angeles, Compton, Inglewood, and Carson grew into the creation of the “Hip Hop Clowns” and the film “Rise”.
The international dance craze also led to the creation of the “Battle Zone,” a dance battle show scripted by Johnson which provided a space for dance crews to intensely battle in creative movement on the dance floor. After each challenge, the audience would determine the best crew.
“Clowns have been around forever,” said Johnson. “But they have been the regular dorky type clowns. I brought hip, I put soul, energy, life, and excitement into it. I took it and put the energy that it needed. I put hipness, where I involved music and street dancing.”
Johnson says the uniqueness of the dance movement comes from the teamwork and energy both he and his crew have put forth.
“I started by myself as Tommy the Clown. Then we crewed it,” said Johnson. “I got my clowns and trained them up on how to entertain a crowd, how to dance, when to dance, when to bring the moves and the steps out and that became a unique way of entertainment.
He continued, “So when we pull up at a party with a mustang and you got five or six clowns coming out, breaking it down and doing things like never before and the energy is high, me taking the music and speeding it up a little bit brought the uniqueness of dance where the energy was a little more advanced.”
On Saturday, May 20, Tommy the Clown’s 25th anniversary event will be held at the University of Southern California (USC) Galen Center at 6pm. Tickets can be purchased at www.tommytheclown.com
“I have been around for 25 years, I’m just happy to meet people,” said Johnson. “Being able to have my event at the USC Galen Center is an honor because anybody can’t just get the Galen Center. So to just be there and to have a staff and create a show that’s going to blow people’s minds.”
Event goers can expect to see original members of Johnson’s squad, the debut of his cheerleading team and more.
Aside from selling out multiple shows at the Inglewood Forum and performing for celebrities, Johnson has also been deemed as a role model and mentor. Through the creation of the Hip Hop Clowns, a dance crew he hired to perform with him, he encouraged his dancers to stay away from drugs and gangs, and do well in school.
Johnson had this to say in regards to his legacy:
“I love God with all my heart, I keep Him first. When you are trying to help teenagers and kids, stop and really help them,” said Johnson. “Starting back from 1992 to 2017, the turn up is still real, the energy is there, it hasn’t changed. You have people saying, ‘he’s still around, ain’t he played out,’ nah you moved out, we still here representing, doing what we do, keeping it in the hood where it’s all good.”