Photo caption: B-boys and girls step to the beat at The Beacon dance studio on a Wednesday night. The studio has been filled with all-ages movement since its opening through Storefronts Seattle in January. Photo credit: Steven Zhang.
As people say home is where the heart is, then Seattle’s Jefferson Community Center on Beacon Hill is where their stories began to unravel. Jefferson Park was where they found the love for hip-hop that ignited and fueled their passion today. Jefferson Park was where they all met as youngsters, and together, found a space to express and cultivate their talent through breakdance.
Bryson Angeles remembers honing his dance skills after school as a young teenager. Anna Mabanta remembers finding a piece of home when she discovered she could be creative on the dance floor popping, locking, breaking. Eventually, it became more than just a hang-out spot or an after-school program. It became a community. Jefferson Community Center was the training ground that developed their hip-hop choreography and b-boying /b-girling skills. Soon, that development turned to an infinite bond of friendship.
“It was the place to go break. People all over the world, if they dance and they came to Seattle, they knew to go to Jefferson Community Center,” says Mabanta.
And so, this place spawned the emergence of a dance crew. Angeles and Mabanta were amongst the young people that became the founding members of today’s 28-member dance crew, the Massive Monkees. Despite traveling worldwide competing and performing for companies like MTV, Nike and the National Basketball Association (NBA), their Seattle roots remain deeply embedded. Remembering the mentors and instructors that once guided them inside the community center, they are now continuing the same tradition by providing a positive light for the young people of this generation.
“What we do is perform and compete. But what we are really passionate about is working with youth,” says Angeles. “A lot of us work with youth programs doing after-school activities and running summer programs. We want to engage youth by doing something positive.”
When the opportunity came to be part of Storefronts Seattle — a neighborhood revitalization program through Shunpike that brings artists to vacant retail spaces to encourage the presence creative professionals in urban districts — Massive Monkees saw the possibility of building relationships with young people through dance in a space of their own.
“Our vision and our values even before we were established has always been mentorship,” says Angeles, who spearheaded the Storefronts Seattle partnership. “In our early years, we were potentially the at-risk youth. We were the hip-hop kids with baggy pants and long hair. We had big clothes, and we were kids being looked and judged at.”
But instead of choosing the direction where many perceived them to go, they gravitated towards the path that brought them hope.
“There are people who we grew up with that who went to another direction,” says Angeles. “But one thing that helped us was our involvement with dance. It was the people before us who looked out (for us) and mentored us. They provided the tools that (shaped) who we are.”
Beating out hundreds of applicants to be part of Seattle Storefronts, “Massive Monkees Studio: The Beacon” has become a dream.
“We applied two days before the application was due,” says Ronald Cabang, who is managing the studio with Massive Monkees. “Eventually, we got chosen to be part of the program, and it took six to seven months until we heard back from Storefront.”
Patience paid off. Not only did Massive Monkees achieved its goal by opening their doors to the community for the first time, the studio is located at an ideal locationv—vthe heart of Seattle’s Chinatown-International District.
“Chinatown was our first place we wanted to have our studio,” says Cabang.” “It’s surreal to see this happening and to finally see Massive Monkees have their own place.”
Working in partnership with the new studio is the nonprofit organization, Extraordinary Futures, which Massive Monkees is collaborating with to empower urban youth through the engagement of an arts and dance-based leadership program.
“With this studio, we can now run a free after-school program with Extraordinary Futures,“ says Angeles. “And with this organization, the youth are also engaged in a curriculum that teaches them about life skills.”
Back then, Angeles didn’t know he would have the opportunity to travel around the world performing onstage and having the privilege to share a piece of his artistry in various platforms. Now in their early-30s with many crew members starting families, Angeles reflects the group of people that first planted the seed for him to grow.
“They were the team leaders that ran the group at Jefferson when I was young,” says Angeles. “The people before us really changed our lives.”
A young participant who attends the Wednesday night beginning and intermediate locking class at the studio speaks to how dancing has changed his life.
“Dancing has helped me to have confidence,” says 18-year-old Khan Mai. “It has definitely built me up in life and brought me to many positives. I definitely wish this studio can continue to be here.”
Today, “The Beacon” is paying tribute to the community where many of the Massive Monkees crew members came from. But most importantly, the crew hopes the studio can be a beacon of light.
“We call it ‘The Beacon’ to pay homage to where we came from: Beacon Hill and Jefferson Park,” says Cabang, who also grew up in the neighborhood. “But another meaning is having the beacon of light to guide kids to a positive direction.”
While Storefronts Seattle is allowing artists and creative professionals to stay at their locations on a temporary, three -month basis, Massive Monkees is hoping to sustain the project so youth and adults can continuously have a space to dance every day — something that wasn’t provided when Angeles was growing up.
“Back then at Jefferson, we could only dance on Mondays and Fridays,” says Angeles. “The rest of the days, we were still out on the streets. Now with this building, people can come in every day. We are open seven days a week.”
It has been a long time coming for Massive Monkees to see their vision turn to reality. What continues to drive each member is their passion that first ignited when they were young.
“We want this studio to be more than a place for people to dance. We want a community to be built,” says Mabanta. “There were so many important friendships and memories that were formed at Jefferson, and we want to continue that. It had a huge part in us forming a group. It was like a family.”
Now, they have the opportunity to spark the fire for others and create new history.