By Charles Lam
Northwest Asian Weekly
Two years ago, the space at 664 South King Street was a vacant room on the ground floor of the Milwaukee Hotel, located between vegetarian-friendly World Pizza and legendary eatery Phnom Penh Noodle House. For a time, it was meant to be a furniture store, but the proprietors ran out of money after renovating, and the space sat silent, gathering dust.
Two weeks ago, on Thursday, Jan. 11, 664 South King Street was vibrating with activity. Dozens of hopeful dancers — male, female, young, old, Black, Asian, white, and everything in between — arranged themselves in rows and columns before the room’s wall-length mirrors. Their steps, some synced with the beat of the music but many not, echoed off the high ceiling as each student went over the motions they were taught only moments before. Onlookers watched from the back of the narrow but long room, where a smattering of shelves, chairs, benches, and space heaters had been set up. There was a dance class taking place, and the students were learning how to pop and lock.
It was the opening day of Massive Monkees’ dance studio, christened “The Beacon.”
The Massive Monkees dance crew has been representing Seattle since their founding in 1996. The crew consists of 15 active members and over two-dozen extended members. They’ve competed nationally and internationally, making appearances in London, Korea, and on TV as part of the fourth season of MTV series “America’s Best Dance Crew.”
They’ve won trophies, medals, appeared in commercials, and have even had their own days — former Mayor Greg Nickels declared April 26, 2004 “Massive Monkees Day” in Seattle. The crew won Nickel’s Mayor’s Art Award in 2007.
They’ve been dreaming of opening a studio since 2005.
“We decided to open a studio close to eight years ago,” said Brysen “JustBe” Angeles, who is spearheading the operation. “We started talking about having a place like this — a home, a hub for Massive Monkees and all the programs and things we were doing through other venues and organizations. A lot of the guys teach at Arts Corps and at other studios across Seattle. We would get invited to teach at other studios and that gave us a vision of what the possibilities are.”
Their vision includes community service. The Beacon features classes for all skill levels, as well as open practice time.
Every Monday and Wednesday, the Beacon partners with Extraordinary Futures, a nonprofit founded by Massive Monkees crew members that uses arts-based programs to empower urban youth, to host a free after-school program, providing a space for students from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Also on the docket is a dance-centric leadership program that inspires youth through creative thinking.
It was through hard work and careful planning that The Beacon has come to fruition. However, it was not without its outside support. Their current space is a grant from Storefronts Seattle, the Shunpike-run project that fills empty storefronts in the International District, Pioneer Square, and South Lake Union with art exhibits and creative enterprises. Other notable Storefronts projects include the Seattle Pinball Museum.
“Our application was submitted a little over a year ago,” Angeles said. “We waited a couple months before we heard back…I was kind of shocked. Out of all these people who applied, we were one of the few people that were picked.”
One of the few is correct. Out of 400 applicants in the last round of Storefronts opportunities, The Beacon was one of 80 approved projects. An even smaller number of projects eventually received spaces to work with. For several months after the Massive Monkees received their approval, that seemed like the case for them.
“One sentence lets us know that we got in, but the next sentence told us that it’s not guaranteed that we’re going to get a space,” Angeles continued. “They told us, ‘It depends if we find a space that suits your vision.’ So we waited for a few more months. During that time, we were looking at other places to lease, really honing down. As this was happening, Matthew from Storefronts let us know that they found us a perfect spot. All of the planning that had gone on for a year just fit into this.”
The Beacon had been the perfect Storefronts project.
“The Massive Monkees project is exactly the type of thing we’re looking for in a Storefronts activations,” said Matthew Richter, program manager of Storefronts. “It’s a project that interacts with the community, whose doors are open and inviting. It’s a project driven by artists looking to change the way we work with street-level open space. It’s a project that engages youth in the best way, bringing a positive, productive, safe space for kids to a tough neighborhood. It’s a project that brightens the street, that enlivens it, that draws the eye, and the ear, and attention, to what would otherwise be a darkened hole on the streetscape. We love the Massive Monkees, we love what they bring to that block, and what they bring to the world of dance, and to the world of arts education.”
And, though the space for now may be temporary, the beacon that the Monkees are lighting is ever-glowing.
“The name ‘The Beacon’ has two meanings,” said Angeles. “We grew up on Beacon Hill. We grew up by Jefferson Community Center. It was the place where we started attending youth programs. It was the place where mentors like us, when they were the age we are now, were teaching youth programs. The other meaning is a beacon of light in Seattle for performing artists who are the best at our craft to share our experiences. There are other artists in Seattle — the Scholars, Macklemore, the list goes on and on — who are really world-class artists. If we can provide an opportunity for them to share their experiences with youth in the community and with the next generation of artists, then I think that that is what the ultimate goal of this is.”
“We call it “Massive Monkees Studio: The Beacon,” but we didn’t just call it Massive Monkees Studio because it’s not just a studio for us,” Angeles continued. “It really is a beacon in Seattle for all artists to come in, collaborate, figure out how we can help each other and figure out how we can work as a unit and as a community.” (end)
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/MassiveMonkeesStudio.
Charles Lam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.