The C-walk, a tiptoe dance that some people joke looks like skipping "hopscotch on crack," has caught on among teenagers nationwide.
But the solo performance dance, usually done to fast-tempo hip-hop and rap music, alarms school administrators. Because of its origins in a notorious street gang, some in Los Angeles are banning it from campus parties and proms. The C, after all, stands for Crips, a name supposedly spelled out in foot motions of some C-walkers.
"The Crip walk is a no-no," Crenshaw High School Principal Isaac Hammond said. He and other educators complain that the dance glamorizes gang life and could trigger retaliation from rivals such as the Bloods, even if most youngsters C-walking are not in the Crips, or any gang at all.
Hammond outlawed the dance on campus and at this year's prom, which took place last week. Manual Arts and Washington Preparatory high schools, also in Los Angeles, forbid the dance, too, and will issue warnings or even suspensions if it causes fights.
"We tell students you might be somewhere doing that dance and it could end your life, or get you seriously hurt," Hammond said. However, he and other principals could not point to any particular altercation triggered by the dance at their schools, and law enforcement officials could not recall any serious violence related to the Crip walk.
Teenagers know the gang started the Crip walk a decade ago, but say it will cause a fight only if performed in the wrong neighborhood and while flashing gang hand signs. They dance it for fun and consider it a badge of honor to master its complicated moves like the rap stars who popularized it--hopping on tiptoes as if weightless from foot to foot in a circular pattern with knees bent.
The school administrators are taking it way too seriously, young people complain.
"The C-walk shouldn't be a problem," said G'Angelo Glover, 17, a student at Washington Prep who was practicing it on a recent Friday after school with his dance competition group. "Everybody does it."
Kaylen Pandy, 14, a student at Crozier Middle School in Inglewood, said most kids "just consider it a regular dance. This is what kids do to keep out of trouble. We spend all of our time dancing instead of being out on the streets."
Erran Daniels, 16, a student at Manual Arts High in South-Central Los Angeles said she learned the steps because of the challenge even though she is aware that it might cause trouble with the wrong audience.
"It's a lot of footwork," said Erran, who is not in a gang. "But you have to remember some people will get offended."
The dance is just one teenage fad that school administrators across the country have forbidden during prom season. Schools in California, Florida, Ohio, Washington, D.C., and other states have ruled out grinding, "freakin'" or other sexually explicit dance moves. Some Los Angeles schools won't allow walking canes, which are popular tuxedo accessories for boys, because they may be used as weapons. And most have banned music with obscenities or sexually explicit words.
For example, Upper Darby High School in Philadelphia and Manual Arts High won't allow the "Thong Song" or "Back That Thang Up," popular hip-hop dance cuts that have some scandalous lyrics.
Hard to Distinguish
The Crip walk, which is most popular among African American teenagers, is more difficult to crack down on because it is not blatantly offensive like sexual dancing, and many adults can't distinguish it from other hip-hop moves, such as the clown walk, old man walk, toe walk, Carlton walk, heel to toe, and Harlem shake.
Plus, many adults aren't aware of the dance's history.
"Who is to know, if it's a fad, that it's a Crip dance?" said Anne Schwab, assistant principal of Carson High School. "It just looks like kids are skipping.... Teachers were laughing at how, kind of silly, it looks."
Schwab said the dance has not been banned at her school because it's just a fad. "There's never been a problem with it. Kids will do anything to get noticed," she said.
Trying to forbid the C-walk is not much different from efforts to stop Elvis Presley because he wore "lurid" clothes and danced provocatively, said David Upshal, co-author of the book "The Hip-Hop Years, a History of Rap."
Like rap music, rock 'n' roll was often blamed for "moral degradation," Upshal said. Even tame dance moves like Chubby Checker's twist of the early 1960s offended some grown-ups and were seen by teenagers as ways to rebel or feel cool.
Upshal said "forbidden" cultures, like those of gangs, are commonly absorbed into mainstream culture. By that time, they are not necessarily harmful, he insisted.
"The way we all dress and speak has been affected by hip-hop culture," Upshal said. "And some of those elements stem directly from gang culture."
Still, some say the Crip walk must be taken seriously, especially in Los Angeles, because of the dance's gang roots. There are hundreds of Crips spinoffs and copycat gangs in Los Angeles County and throughout the world. Law enforcement officials say Crips gang members are responsible for thousands of deaths and shootings.
Crips culture has become a part of popular movies and music. Rapper Snoop Dogg, a former member of the Crips, is well known for throwing up gang signs and C-walking in his videos. The 15-year-old rapper Lil Bow Wow has also been known to do an offshoot of the Crip walk during performances, but has denied being involved in any gang.
Gang lore has it that Crips do the C-walk after shooting or killing someone, said Larry Rael, a detective with the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department and president of the National Alliance of Gang Investigators Assns. Rael said he has never heard of anyone being shot because of the dance, and rumors about such violence may be exaggerated.
Still, he said, parents and teachers should pay attention to the music young people listen to, and schools should restrict such dances to prevent the "influences of gangs from coming into their schools."
"A lot of kids out there see that kind of stuff in videos, they see it in school and they see other kids doing it," he said.
Wes Daily, a detective with the Suffolk County Police Department on Long Island in New York, and a member of the East Coast Gang Investigators Assn., said East Coast teenagers C-walk too, but he emphasized that it is not a major concern. "If everybody was doing it at a club, I doubt very seriously there would be a drive-by," Daily said.
Some say it will be difficult to ban C-walking because it has become so widespread.
Deric Gainer, 21, a student in St. Petersburg, Fla., who C-walks and does not belong to a gang, said the dance is popular there with college fraternity guys and elementary school students.
High school students in Seattle say C-walkers are everywhere, but tend to be cautious when dancing in the Central District, near downtown, where Bloods hang out.
In Internet chat rooms, teenagers beg for tips on how to perfect the moves, while others share stories about C-walking at parties and school dances or during after-school dance-offs called "battles." But on the Web site www.breakdance.com, one wrote: "Why do you all wanna do this walk? It's not a dance, it's a gang sign. If you all ain't reppin' 4 tha blue then watch where you walk." Blue is traditionally a Crip color.
Washington Prep Principal James Noble, who has studied gang culture, said he must be stringent because the campus is surrounded by 17 active gangs.
"Crip walking is not done for fun. It is done to make a statement," he said.
Teachers and parents should be alarmed if a student does the Crip walk because it may be an indication that he or she is at risk of joining a gang, he said.
Charles Allen, 18, a senior at Washington Prep, said he understands that the principal wants to "keep students safe" at the prom. But C-walking is just too cool to stop elsewhere. Check out the after-prom parties: "There will be a lot of it."
You can see the Crip walk in a video on The Times' Web site, www.latimes.com/dance.