Step up and get served

‘Stomp the Yard’ uses a tired plot line, but with fresher dance moves

Megan Kadrmas

.”Stomp the Yard” opens in a crowded, dark, strange club focused on two opposing teams in the center of the chaos. They are preparing for battle, but no, there’s no need for armor. It might look like punches will be thrown, but this is just a part of the aggressive and spontaneous West Coast dancing of krump.

Krump blends breaking and other hip-hop dances with elements of punk and moshing. The dancers in “Stomp the Yard” use jerking body movements, fast footwork and exaggerated facial expressions to relate their feelings.

“Stomp the Yard”
DIRECTED BY: Sylvain White
STARRING: Columbus Short, Ne-Yo, Chris Brown, Meagan Good
RATED: PG-13
SHOWING AT: Area theaters

Sadly, this is the most emotionally charged scene in the entire film, leaving the next 110 minutes to be one predictable letdown after another.

“Stomp the Yard” has a clichéd plot right from the opening scene. When Duron (musician Chris Brown) expresses hesitation about the battle to his brother and dance partner, DJ (Columbus Short), Duron’s death certificate is practically signed.

After their krumping team wins the competition, they are attacked while leaving the neighborhood. Duron is killed, leaving DJ alone with his guilt and grief.

Interestingly, krumping and its predecessor, clowning, were created to prevent this kind of violent outburst. These dance styles allow urban youths to turn their rage and violent energy into a positive, nonviolent art. There seems to be little discussion of this aspect in “Stomp the Yard,” perhaps out of convenience for the story line that forces a conflict between “legitimate” dance and “street” dance.

In that miraculous way that only seems to happen in the movies, California boy DJ enrolls at Truth University in Georgia, falls in love, joins a fraternity and lives happily ever after.

It’s the typical fish-out-of-water story, contrasting “thuggish” DJ to the “preppy” college kids. The film dramatizes the clash between krumping and stepping, for much the same ghetto versus suburb reasoning. DJ, when recruited by one of the dueling fraternities, tells the seven-time national step champions that “stepping is for pussies.”

He quickly warms to stepping and pledging, though, after seeing all of the influential social and political black leaders who were part of the greek system. It becomes clear that the fraternity DJ chooses will win nationals.

The reason to suffer through “Stomp the Yard” is to learn something about stepping and krumping. Although the movie fails to give any explanation of the histories and traditions of the dances, the routines are visually pleasing and action-packed.

The battle-dancing scenes and star-studded soundtrack also help to redeem “Stomp the Yard.” The dance-offs do more to illustrate DJ’s struggles with acceptance, grief and guilt than the film’s dialogue and songs – from artists like Ghostface Killah, E-40, Lil’ Jon, Public Enemy, Cut Chemists and The Roots – that create an intense and hardcore energy around the dancing.

When DJ battles his dream girl’s (Meagan Good, “You Got Served”) cocky boyfriend (Darrin Henson, “Soul Food”), the scene starts with the master of ceremonies asking where DJ is representing, and he says he’s representing himself – especially lame because the battle occurs at a “Rep Your City” dance contest. And the minute DJ busts out krump, which is a distinctly LA-based style, it becomes obvious where he is from. Although krump has become popular through music videos and movies like “Stomp the Yard,” it is still a style unique to the West Coast.

But then the music starts and the song, Unk’s “Walk It Out,” talks about east side, west side, north side and south side, demonstrating better than dialogue that it doesn’t really matter where DJ is from because he can throw down.

“Stomp the Yard” shows the nation the intense loyalty, commitment, dedication and tradition found in the Southern greek system. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t go into detail about the history of the black greek system, which would have added much-needed depth to the plot.

However, “Stomp the Yard” isn’t about fraternities or coming of age or romance or any of the other weak attempts to enliven the story line. It isn’t even about West Coast versus Dirty South, or new street style versus college tradition.

“Stomp the Yard” is about the dancing. And the rest, as you’ll see made obvious in the first five minutes, will work out in the end.