Phoenix Rising: Massive Monkees Studio, The Beacon Returns

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The last year or so has brought gut punch after gut punch from beloved local businesses having to shutter. This is what made the announcement that the Massive Monkees and their physical community space, The Beacon had outplayed those odds to make a comeback such blissfully welcome news.

Massive Monkees, the Seattle-based breaking dancing crew that has a global footprint, originally opened The Beacon in 2013 in the heart of Seattle’s Chinatown-International District. More than just a studio, it was a gathering place, a community space, something more akin to the living room at your favorite family member’s house. To be specific, that would be your favorite family member that moves the furniture to the side so you can practice your flares and 6-step. 

The space was used for events, youth classes, cyphers, and battles. They also partnered with other organizers to provide space for their own activities. Space being such an invaluable commodity in the city nowadays, partnerships like that helped to remove obstacles for other organizers attempting to share resources.

“The family vibe gets extended to everyone. That’s really one of our values, that we do things together, and we’re firm believers that together we are better,” said Massive Monkees member, Hocine Jouini.

Community. That’s the key theme that keeps popping up when you hear members of Massive Monkees speak.

But when the pandemic hit, it seemingly put a halt to their community work. What started as a possible couple weeks of closure extended into seemingly never-ending uncertainty. To make matters more daunting, during lease renewal discussions, the landlord had notified them of an exorbitant rent increase. All this happening during a very precarious time, didn’t make the outlook seem promising.

“I was more involved in the previous studio as a volunteer; teaching and hosting. But it really hit me when we closed. I really wanted to be involved in reopening the space,” said Jouini. “We started the search for a place, and I want to say we visited like 50-plus spaces over two years.”

Jouini pointed to three key things that Massive Monkees needed for their next space to be successful: affordability, proximity to the city (accessibility), and a landlord who understood the mission. “They have to be really community-oriented to understand what we do.” 

A formidable undertaking. But what is hip-hip culture if not the underdog fighting the status quo to create their own little spot in the world? The rebels. The fighters. And having been such an integral part of the community, the love they were shown from that community was a big driver in making the reopening happen. 

“That was the main thing: hearing from the community, what the want was, what the need for it was, and how important it was,” said Brysen Angeles, one of the original founders of Massive Monkees. In the process of applying for grants, they had reached out for testimonials to get the point of view of the public and the response was loud and clear. “The videos and testimonials we got were tear jerking, just hearing the things people felt.”

Photo by Angelo Harper

The testimonials themselves tell the story of what the Beacon meant to the community it served:

One testimonial the Monkees received reads, “This was the place where we could all gather, have that commonality, and be able to feel safe with each other; be able to share and build; have a larger community where we could affect change, we could hear each other.” 

Another Beacon patron states, “Once you start learning these dances, you start learning about history. History that you’re not taught in school. All these things came from the struggle and it’s not a negative thing. It’s because we were able to still celebrate within the struggle.” 

The goal of the new space is to build upon the foundation heard in those testimonials, the one the Massive Monkees have spent years building.

“We’re here 30 years later, still doing the same thing in a more mature way. Any way that we can recreate those kinds of experiences for young people, that give them that type of belief or community or whatever it is that keeps people going in this thing, [that’s the goal],” said Angeles.

In addition to the community interaction and donations to the campaign, they also received support from the Seattle Restored program and a grant from 4Culture – two programs within the city working to support and elevate local artists and businesses. Members of the crew are quick to point out that none of this could have been done in a silo. It took support from the community and partnership with arts and cultural programs, as well as every one of the Massive Monkee crew members who make the space what it is. 

“And of course, the creators of the culture and the dance styles. Where are we without them? We’re still learning and we’re just passing the knowledge down to the next. We have to acknowledge the pioneers and the creators of the dances and the culture,” said Angeles. 

The new incarnation of the Beacon is located at 812 Rainier Ave South, Seattle, WA 98144. More information can be found at @thebeaconmm on Instagram.