Capturing breakdancing with a camera is difficult. Articulating it with words is as nuanced as the word itself which b-boys and b-girls refer to as “breaking” as opposed to “breakdancing”. Yet it is not difficult because breaking is an exclusive culture. It is difficult because breaking creates its own community.
Students gather in school cafeterias looking for a smooth surface to practice. Crews come together at community centers searching for a place to share. Going to the community center after school has been a common narrative for many people growing up. A new documentary, which will be screened at this year’s Seattle Asian American Film Festival, Massive Monkees: The Beacon traces such a story back to the Jefferson Community Center in Beacon Hill.
Massive Monkees is a breaking crew born in Seattle. Their studio, The Beacon, is located in International District but pays homage to the crews roots in Beacon Hill.
Massive Monkees started out as a young group of friends hanging out and breaking in the early 90s. The crew established itself later in 1999. Brysen Angeles helped found Massive Monkees and is now director of The Beacon, the crew’s studio. Angeles recalls going to the community center especially in the beginning to go see and practice breaking.
Since then, Massive Monkees has grown far beyond what they could have imagined. “In high school doing this I wouldn’t say that well one day we’re going to be world-champion b-boys and we’ll open our own studio and we’ll have a proclamation of Massive Monkees Day in Seattle. We didn’t know that those things were going to happen. What we did know is that we liked to hang out with our friends…we liked to dance,” said Angeles.
Shannon Gee started documenting the Massive Monkees story late in 2014. Gee was a senior producer at Seattle Channel and currently serves as the station’s interim general manager. The Community Channel and Gee both intend to document diverse communities in Seattle.
Angeles said that he is pleased with how the documentary turned out. “She really captured the essence of what the crew does,” said Angeles.
Gee directed and captured the specific time and place of Massive Monkees between 2014 and 2015. The establishment of their studio The Beacon is highlighted through the process.
The crew is internationally recognized for its skill yet is locally well known for its service. Gee said that before even getting to know them she was comforted “to know that they were doing their thing out there in Beacon Hill where I grew up and then Jefferson Community Center where I went to preschool.”
With as much care and passion they would pour out for their own kids, members of the Massive Monkees crew share their breaking experience. They give the best of themselves to their students as if they were their sons and daughters.
The Beacon draws in a wide range of people. It hosts multiple classes for an array of ages, experiences and backgrounds. It opens up as a creative studio for locals and visitors.
The space encourages adults and kids alike to express themselves. It reinforces confidence and identity. It continues to provide a place for dance, community, and friendship to flourish.
The community has been a part of Massive Monkees for a long time. Community centers supported them when they were young and people continued to believe in them when they were establishing the studio.
In much the same way, The Beacon stands to be a part of the community and gives back in its own creative expression.
Many b-boys and b-girls started out the same way Massive Monkees did. Few crews have founded a studio like the Beacon though. The difference is that Massive Monkees did not stop.
“At the core of everything, we are a group of friends. That’s who we are and what we do,” said Angeles.
Back then they met in community centers but now they meet at The Beacon. They are the same friends just hanging out and dancing. It seems only natural to keep going.
The Beacon is a community space that could only exist because of Massive Monkees.
Florentino “Flow” Francisco is another original crew member of Massive Monkees. In separate interviews, Angeles and Flow cited the value of “each one, teach one.” Without planning to, they confirmed what the other shared.
The idea emphasizes the importance of each person passing on what they learn to the next person. Members of the Massive Monkees crew learned from mentors before them what they now teach at the studio.
The lessons were more than just how to do a certain move. It started with basics and equipped them as young people to work through the sweat. The fun and enjoyment would be natural.
“We just want to share our passion with whoever wants to learn it and be a part of it with us,” said Flow. The b-boy culture lends itself to building community.