Fair Warning, Herbert Johnson III Is Here to Dance

Herbert Johnson III has a whole persona. He has a moniker he uses when he’s performing, when he’s Krumping. His moniker is “Fair Warning.” He also goes by “JDot Tight Eyex” sometimes. Johnson said his “character is the quiet creative kid in the back of the class that bullies like to mess with but then it backfires on them.” He that his persona “is based on actual experiences.”

Here’s how it all began. When Johnson was in middle school, the sisters at the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis took him and a group of school students to the Guthrie Theater to see a Charles Randolph-Wright musical called Blue. That visit helped Johnson determine his future. “After seeing that play,” Johnson said, “I really wanted to dance.” Before that day, Johnson knew he wanted a career in the arts, but seeing the musical helped him realize he was particularly interested in stage performance.

Johnson is from Chicago originally and moved to Minneapolis when he was in the eighth grade. He went to Nellie Stone Johnson Community School and Minneapolis North High School where he started to dance. Johnson studied musical theater at Lundstrum Performing Arts for about three years, then transferred to the Perpich Center for Arts Education where he focused on dance.

“The first style that really got me into dancing was Krump,” Johnson said. Generally, Krump is defined as an afro-diasporic street style of dance that originated in the early 2000s in California, it was created by two dancers – Ceasare “Tight Eyez” Willis and Jo’Artis “Big Mijo” Ratti. The style is characterized by free improvisational movements phrases that are free, frenetic, and exaggerated.

Johnson described Krump as “a street style based out of California, an improvisational form of dance.” He added that it’s “energetic and driven by style and character.” Krump had five original foundations – stomp, jabs, arm swings, chest pops, and bounce – and has since evolved to include several advanced foundations. It also has three modalities: style, power, and liveness. For Johnson, the form challenges dancers to “put moves together and improvise with the moves and be in the body.” He added that in Krump “style is physicality and character is mentality,” and those things, and Krump’s emphasis on improvisation “make it easy to be an individual within Krump.”

Personas are part of it too. Johnson explained that “typically people create characters in Krump based on real-life experiences or a superhero but their own version.

“I started dance with Krump,” Johnson said. “It was based on improv and what I felt I was seeing. This was before YouTube was big. I didn’t have access to the internet, so I copied what my friends were doing. We all mimicked the style we knew called Krump.”

Herb Johnson III Worksample from herbert johnson on Vimeo.

Johnson thought about pursuing a BFA in Dance Performance, but, at the time, only one school included hip-hop dance as a concentration. He was also troubled by what he saw as “a lack of representation when it came to versatility of styles and a lack of representation when it came to racial equity. It came down to what my teachers looked like as well,” he said.

He learned by doing instead. He built a Krump community here in the Twin Cities and connected to Krump artists nationwide through videos. In 2005, the David LaChapelle documentary Rize gave Johnson, and his dance crews, Obtuse Crew and Deadpool, a more in depth idea of the style. “YouTube got big,” Johnson said, “and we started looking up dancers from Rize. We saw how the style was evolving.” Johnson also credits a series of DVDs called The Golden Series of Krump with showcasing Krump culture and deepening his understanding of the art.

“Community is huge in hip hop,” Johnson said. “Our community is based on support but also trust. One of the main reasons Krump has grown is through teacher student engagement. Our community is built around a lot of support and guidance.” Johnson talked about how the Twin Cities Krump community connects to the creators of the style in California “It was important to be in contact with the creators of the style. It gives [dancers here] something to look forward to so they keep working.”

Today, Johnson is a Krump scholar teaching at the University of Minnesota and at Carleton College, where he’s also choreographing as a guest artist. He also teaches at TU Dance Center. Johnson’s arts practice is focused on Krump. Tight Eyez, who had a key role in Rize, is serving as his mentor.

“Lately, I’m very interested in finding out how to transition Krump as more of a choreographic form,” Johnson said. In 2019, he began to put that idea into practice. Johnson was selected to participate in Momentum New Dance Works, a program that is designed to help emerging choreographers create new works and gain support for their careers as choreographers. The piece Johnson created, “StagNATION,” drew critical acclaim and solidified his interest in staged works.

Johnson understands the challenges of bringing an art form rooted in and connected to the streets onto the stage. “I’m not trying to white wash the style,” he said. “I want it to be on the stage and also as authentic to its style as possible.”

Like many artists, 2020 was a year of change and adaptation for Johnson. He is a full-time artist, and the cancellation of jobs and performances was difficult to manage at first. In time, he started teaching classes by Zoom but noted that “in dance there’s an in-person electricity from everyone’s body that’s bigger than teaching in front of screens.”

“I learned a lot about adaptation and acceptance,” Johnson said. He went on to describe how Krump’s emphasis on community and improvisation served him during a year of adversity. “Improv prepares you for anything,” he said. “We had [online] calls to check in with each other. We realized how much me missed each other.” Through it all, Johnson said, “I was still able to build community.”

Uprizing Graphic

Johnson is currently preparing for the fourth annual installment of an event called Uprizing. It will take place outdoors this summer. Johnson designed the upcoming event by forming a focus group to identify what everyone’s needs are. “Lots of community members within Krump are part of it.” Tight Eyez, Big Mijo, and Miss Prissy, Krump creators who were all in “Rize” and who all remain influential in the genre, will be here teaching at Uprising. Johnson said the goal of this year’s Uprising is to “hold space where our community Krumpers can learn about the history of Krump. It’s a moment of creating space and opportunity and ability.”

When Johnson applied to be a 20/20 Fellow with Springboard for the Arts, he had his Krump community in mind. He wanted to find a way to make Uprizing bigger than it had been in the past. Not for the sake of the event itself but for the sake of those who might benefit from it, for the sake of Krump. Other Krump notables participated in Uprizing in the past, but no one had managed to get both of the creators to the Midwest at the same time. “I wanted this for some of the people in the community who have not been able to travel,” Johnson said, meaning travel to Krump events. “A lot of them have never been to California – the mecca. I wanted to bring the mecca to Minnesota.” Uprizing will take place on June 13, part of The SOTA Movement, organized in partnership another 20/20 Fellow, Maia Maiden.

“One of the ways I’ve grown as a dancer is by meeting people outside the Minnesota Krump community, other people who are great at what they do. There’s a form of opportunity in it because those visitors are part of the commercial [dance] industry. There’s lots of talent in Minnesota so if [visitors] are putting together a project, they may find interest in someone here,” Johnson said.

“It puts Minnesota Krump on a larger scale too. People from all over will see what happens at this event and may want to visit. My thought process was how to raise the bar for Krump in the Midwest,” Johnson said and added that Krump is more popular on the west and east coast and in the south than it is in the Midwest. “Springboard has been very helpful with making this happen,” he offered. “I’m excited about the guests who are coming. This will be a historic moment.”