Seattle's Chinatown-International District is home to many commercial establishments. Think about the legions of great Asian restaurants, boutiques, even pet stores. Now meet the ID's first hip-hop dance studio: The Beacon. It's one of the newest participants in Storefronts Seattle, a collaboration between neighborhood businesses, the city and Shunpike, an artist support organization.
The Beacon is run by the hip-hop crew Massive Monkees. The crew has traveled around the world competing in break-dancing throw-downs. Most of the Monkees learned their art on the streets or in ad hoc workshops. Longtime crew member Brysen Angeles says several years ago the b-boys (how break dancers identify themselves) decided they wanted to offer formal classes in order to give kids a chance to see that dance could be a viable option for them.
"If, at a younger age, I would have been more open to taking jazz, ballet, drama classes, all these different things," he explains "then me as a performing artist, I would be a lot more developed, and the opportunities to be an entertainer would be a lot broader."
The Beacon is located on the ground floor of one of the ID's historic hotel buildings and belongs to Massive Monkees for just three months. The neighborhood development program, Storefronts, negotiates temporary residencies for the artists it places in vacant storefronts. The idea is to help revitalize commercial areas that were hard hit by the recession.
Over the past two and a half years, the program has placed more than 33 different art projects in Seattle and Tacoma. In January 2013, it expanded to Mt. Vernon. Although the area real estate market has been on the upswing recently, Storefronts project director Matthew Richter says they've actually seen an increase in empty storefronts with the uptick in mixed-use retail-residential building construction.
The Storefronts program is branching out to make some of their temporary residencies permanent. Richter thinks the Massive Monkees dance studio would make a great long term tenant. Crew member Brysen Angeles agrees. It would give Massive Monkees a chance to involve more kids in their programs. But a permanent studio also raises the profile of hip-hop culture.
"It's misunderstood what we're about," he says. "You say 'street dancer' and immediately people's minds go to the place where it's something rugged, maybe something they don't want their kids involved in."
Angeles, a father himself, says it's just the opposite. Break dancing has given him a chance to travel around the world, to experience other cultures, and to achieve more for himself than he expected when he was a student at Seattle's Franklin High School. It's a chance he wants to give back to a new generation.
Watch Massive Monkees take on the Korean crew Jinjo